Mindfulness–the practice of observing ourselves and our surroundings in a non-judgmental way–isn’t the end all be all of mental wellness. But for many people, mindfulness is a powerful tool for focusing on the present.
(And no, mindfulness isn’t just a trend. It’s been practiced spiritually for millenia, and secular approaches have been fleshed out and studied extensively over the last 40-plus years. It’s a scientifically validated core skill in “third wave” cognitive-behavioral therapy.)
Mindfulness takes practice, and practice takes time. Meditation has been the traditional means of developing the skill–and it’s something I’ve found very helpful. But for many people, finding periods of quiet to meditate is difficult. And when you haven’t practiced much, sitting quietly with your thoughts for any significant length of time is challenging.
Try introducing mindfulness into routine experiences. Start when you’re on the toilet. That isn’t a joke. It’s a great time to put away your phone and focus on what’s happening in your body. Focus on your breath first; even as you encounter unpleasant smells. Notice the sounds around you–and the sounds you make. Listen quietly to rumbles in your stomach. Observe the tension and relief in your abdomen, bladder, and chest. We’ve made toileting gross, but it’s an inescapable part of our nature. Be grateful for indoor plumbing, shelter, privacy, and a moment of escape. When you’re done, clean up, wash your hands, and re-engage with the world. Don’t worry that your mind wanders; catching a wandering thought and focusing again is a sign that you’re engaged in the process.
If you want to practice non-judgmental observation, it’s nice to start with the icky, smelly, and yet totally normal parts of your life. And it doesn’t take a single moment from your other activities! Win, win, wipe. (And wash-up when finished).