Practicing Mindfulness for the Present
By Diana Winston
If you were to check into your mind at any point in the day you’d probably discover it was lost in the past or the future. We all spend a lot of our time ruminating about the past, replaying it, and feeling bad about it. Or we are often lost in the future, planning for the worst—obsessing and catastrophizing.
This type of thinking, although very common, can lead to or exacerbate depression and anxiety. What if instead we could learn to live in the present moment?
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment with openness and curiosity and a willingness to be with what is. When we find our mind lost in the past or the future, we can learn to gently let go of our thought and return to the present moment. If we just check in with ourselves we usually discover that in the present, we are actually okay.
You can learn mindfulness through meditation practice. To get started, find a fairly quiet place to try it for five minutes. You can locate your breath in your body; notice where you feel it the clearest such as in your abdomen, chest, or nose. Then try to bring your attention to the sensations of breathing. You might stay with one or two breaths and if your mind wanders away, gently bring it back. Keep going. Every time your thoughts wander away, simply bring your mind back to your breathing. If you would like to do this with a little guidance, we have many guided meditations of varying lengths through the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
Once we begin to understand mindfulness through our meditation, we will find that we can bring it to any point in our day. Just a moment of mindfulness can help us to come back to center, not get lost in anxious or depressed thoughts. This can help us find more ease and a sense of well being. Soon we can be mindful walking, eating, driving (keep your eyes open!), talking with a friend, or in any stressful situation we can remember to notice our breath, pause, and return to the present moment. We do not have to be at the mercy of our thoughts and can live more fully, with joy, in the present moment.
Diana Winston has been the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center www.marc.ucla.edu since 2006. She is the co-author (with Susan Smalley, Ph.D.) of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness and the CD, “Mindful Meditations” (2008). She has been teaching mindfulness nationally and internationally since 1993 and has brought mindful awareness into schools, hospitals, and nonprofits, as well as to adolescents, leaders, educators, and health professionals in the US and Asia. Her work has been mentioned in the New York Times, Newsweek, O Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, CBS and ABC News, and the LA Times, among others. She has been called by the LA Times: “one of the nation’s leading mindfulness teachers.”