Have you noticed that word mindfulness popping up in all sorts of places lately? As busy healthcare professionals, we are mindful of many pressing things – the worried patients in our waiting room, the unread stack of journals, the charts waiting to be signed. I imagine that just being reminded about the things you’re mindful of is making you feel stressed and anxious. So how is all of this mindfulness supposed to help us?
Go back a minute and relive how you felt as you read about the waiting patients, the unread journals, and the unsigned charts. Where was your mind when you were thinking about those things? Maybe it was back an hour, when a difficult patient caused you to get behind in your schedule. Perhaps you jumped to the end of your day, wondering how you would finish your charts and still get to your child’s game on time. Clearly, you weren’t in the present moment.
A Zen master had a practice of coming up to his students and asking, “What, in this moment, is missing?” So just for a moment, bring yourself to where you are – this current moment in time. And ask yourself, what is missing in this very moment? Not in the past. Not in some imagined future moment. Right now.
You’re sitting where you are, reading this column. Hopefully, you’re sitting comfortably, in a safe environment, and you’re breathing. At this moment, probably nothing is missing. None of those worries exist in this moment. Unfortunately, we spend too much of our time fretting over the past or worrying about the future. But if we can bring ourselves back to this present moment, we can usually enjoy a greater sense of peace, safety and confidence in our ability to deal with what is currently happening.
That is precisely what mindfulness is.
Mindfulness is actually pretty challenging for those of us who spend most of our time thinking and planning. So, just like any new activity, we need to practice. One good way to start is to bring some mindfulness to the normal things that we do during the day. When you’re eating, slow down and really taste the food, even if it’s for a few bites. It will be more enjoyable and satisfying if you do. How many meals have you eaten without much awareness of the taste, the texture, or the pleasure of the food? When you’re speaking with someone, be completely focused on the conversation, rather than on what you have to do next. The connection you make will be much more fulfilling, the conversation deeper and more interesting. And when you begin to spiral out of control with worry, bring yourself back to the present moment - it is, after all, where you are. And it’s the only place where you can have any impact. Being mindful of each moment in our life helps us feel calmer, more focused and more alive. Life goes by quickly enough – we may as well really experience each of those precious moments while we have them.