Have you ever hopped behind the steering wheel of your car only to suddenly arrive at your destination with no memory of the journey?
Or maybe you opened up a bag of chips for a “quick snack” that ended with an empty bag and no recollection of how much you ate.
Or perhaps you’re thinking about your Military Family’s upcoming POC or your spouse’s deployment and make it through the day with little memory of how you spent it?
It happens to all of us more than we may realize. We slip into “autopilot,” our attention absorbed by something beyond our immediate environment, our minds wandering down a path our feet do not tread.
This daily mindlessness detaches us from our lives and locks us into a state of “doing” rather than “experiencing”. It prevents us from enjoying little things like the color of the sky or the taste of our favorite foods. At its worst, mindlessness causes us to lose touch with our bodies. Aches and pains are thoughtlessly quelled with painkillers rather than tended to, and we don’t consider that their origin might be our lingering stress, anxiety, or depression — all of which mindlessness has been found to perpetuate.
Mindless living is wearisome, uninspiring and unhealthy. But so many of us have been living this way for so long, it can be hard to fathom another way of being. Thankfully, an alternative route already exists and has been successfully practiced for centuries, even by the military community.
Mindfulness is the opposite of the autopilot control we’re accustomed to. Rather, living mindfully means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. What’s more, it asks us to let go of judgment and the belief that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but a secular practice of mindfulness is quickly spreading through the American mainstream and not just in yoga studios. The documented mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness have encouraged its application in schools, hospitals, veteran centers, and beyond over the past few decades. The military has even begun teaching mindfulness to soldiers as a healthy way to cope with stress and recommending it as a key component of treatment plans for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of mindfulness is that full presence and awareness is a basic human ability. It doesn’t require special equipment, enhanced talent, or a financial commitment. While regular practice is certainly beneficial to the cultivation of a mindful way of living, we can snap into mindfulness and experience its acute benefits whenever we want.
Easy 5-minute practice:
- Find a comfortable seating or lying position with your feet flat on the floor or spine stretched out long
- Take five long, deep breaths, allowing each inhale and exhale to completely fill and then empty your lungs
- Don’t fixate on any thoughts that might come up, let them float through your mind like clouds drifting across the sky
- Start checking in with your body by asking each part of your body how it feels and finding places where you can relax and get more comfortable
- Notice how you feel after you’ve check in with your entire body, noting feelings of stability and quieter thoughts
- Take one last deep breath in and out, open your eyes, and return to your day with peaceful awareness
You can sprinkle this short mindfulness practice throughout your day, either at set times or when you feel the need to recollect yourself. Practicing once or twice a day every day can help you get in the groove of living mindfully and help make that moment-to-moment awareness and grounded ease your new normal.
Always remember to be patient with yourself as you practice and keep in mind that the point is not necessarily to completely clear your head. It’s okay if nagging thoughts come in every now and again. The real success is remembering that you don’t have to react to them as they do and allowing yourself to experience peace in a world that provides minute-to-minute distractions.