“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
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Do you fear that you’re missing out on life?
Are you waiting for something? To be loved? To be successful? To be happy?
Do you often feel like life is simply carrying you along, as something beyond your control?
In ancient Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who caught sight of his reflection in a pond one day and became completely enamored with it. It is said that he lay down by the water to gaze at his face, growing obsessed with his own image. Since he was unable to obtain the object of his desire, he died where he lay, overcome by grief. Sounds pathetic, but in many instances it’s a frighteningly accurate metaphor. The term “narcissist” is derived from this myth, and it tellingly refers to a person who is self-enamored and self-preoccupied, often to an obsessive and dangerous degree.
In his novella The Beast in the Jungle, author Henry James introduces us to exactly such a character: John Marcher, an extremely self-centered young man who is convinced that he has been selected by fate for a special event that will occur in his lifetime. He encounters a sensitive and intelligent young woman, May Bartram, who listens to John’s theory concerning his personal foreboding and conviction that he’s destined for greatness. May offers her friendship and agrees to watch and wait with John until this special fate comes to fruition. For many years, John sits idly and refuses to let May get close to him, ignoring the love of a good woman and killing time as he waits for his “spectacular fate”.
The story unravels to become a tale of lost life and lost love; it is only after May dies that John realizes that he’s missed most of his life—and the opportunity for true love—while waiting for a rare, strange, and self-concocted “event” that never happens. By living in his head and focusing on a fantasy, he missed the true meaning of life. He missed out on friendship, love, purpose, adventure, discovery, and self-growth. Gambling for nothing, he lost everything.
Narcissists typically do not empathize nor can they appreciate the beauty of the life that surrounds them. They exist at the opposite end of the spectrum as opposed to mindfulness. John “woke up” when May died; this was the emotional event that triggered his realization—too late—that life extended beyond himself.
Mindfulness is about exactly that: waking up to the world and connecting with life.
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“By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity, altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness.” –Mathieu Ricard
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As a teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the University of Massachusetts’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, Jon Kabat-Zinn says:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
By cultivating conscious awareness of the present moment, we extract ourselves from our own toxic thought patterns. By learning to sense and see and appreciate life, we need not regret an unfulfilled existence. Mindfulness is a practice that can immediately ground us back into the world, helping us delve within ourselves while simultaneously shifting us beyond ourselves.
As mindfulness is all about “living in the now”, the idea suitably circles back to the NOW philosophy:
Look around you and experience the life and love that surrounds you. It is right beside you! If you haven’t seen it, open your eyes and your mind. It’s easy to remove those mental blinders and barriers, as long as you truly want to.
Seek out and you shall find opportunities to grow and connect with life without judging yourself. By staying in the moment with those who are nearest and dearest to us, we can cultivate compassion, love, kindness, and morality within us—and then extend this compassionate attitude towards others.
By becoming more mindful, you will achieve a stronger inner peace. It is foremost beneficial to you, and then—from you—it explodes tenfold out into the world around you. You can be deeply affected by the people around you, and can gain insight from and power over their thoughts; never forget that this is mutual—so work to make a positive impact.
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“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” –James Baraz
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Not sure where to start? Dr. Kabat-Zinn lists the following simple exercises as key components to mastering mindfulness:
- Pay attention to your breathing in the present moment.
- Notice what you’re sensing right now—use all of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste? Increase your awareness of your body’s physical sensations to better ground yourself in the moment.
- Understand that your thoughts and emotions are like clouds. They will come and go and will always pass through; they need not define you.
- Keep a look-out for negative thought patterns so that you recognize them and then can make changes.
Get out of your head and get into your soul. Don’t waste life—live it. And begin living it now. If you do it now, you will always have time.
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“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility.” –Victoria Moran