When introduced to the concept of being mindful of my daily routine, I was skeptical; in my opinion I was already “aware” of what I was doing from moment to moment. As I gave in and became more open to the concept of living my life mindfully, I realized that what I was doing before was far from mindful. In fact, for the most part, I lived my life on automatic pilot and my brain was often occupied elsewhere rather than engaged in the task at hand.

I spent my career in healthcare multitasking. Each situation had endless possible outcomes and I had to not only perform tasks but anticipate possible changes in my environment at the same time; from being “aware” of my surroundings to being “aware” of the changing conditions of my patients, I had convinced myself that I had it all under control and I was “seeing” it all… until I actually stopped to delve into the practice of being mindful. I didn’t know how much I had missed of what went on around me during my days off. It was as if, when my work stopped, my brain was too focused on the endless possibilities in each moment that it forgot about the moment itself. Going to the grocery store was a lesson in safety, a car driving too fast nearby, a woman walking blindly across a parking lot, a sudden halt as someone ran a red light—it was never just about me and the drive itself. The act of searching for hazards overtook my conscious mind and left little to engage with my current activity: driving.

You can be mindful while driving. The tiniest focus is all it takes. Feel the steering wheel under your hands; notice its rough seams, the smoothness beneath your hands or even that slight stick that creates the friction necessary to turn the wheel. Feel yourself breathe as you navigate your way through traffic, notice the rise and fall of your chest, take a deep belly breath and let it out through your mouth, notice how your body automatically reacts by relaxing just the teeniest bit.

You see, being mindful is not about necessarily blocking all else out, it’s about allowing yourself to focus from moment to moment, allowing your focus to shift as you perform tasks, like a butterfly floating from flower to flower, ever inquisitive, your mind and your body engaged with one another can be a very powerful and calming tool in everyday life. Touch, feel, smell, hear, taste and relax. These are the keys to being mindful.

As I began my introduction to mindful practice in my daily life, I would often find that from the outset I would get impatient. I wanted that end piece, the calmness, the relaxing effect and I didn’t want to work to get myself there, I wanted a quick fix to my anxiety. This is not mindfulness. Mindfulness cannot be rushed, for it to work the vessel (you) must be patient and accepting. It’s a practice, and like all practice, it takes time to achieve mastery.

I challenge everyone to try just once a day to be mindful in the moment. It doesn’t have to be consistent; you can build as you get the hang of it, hold onto it for longer and longer periods, and with time, you’ll notice that you can switch to being mindful and in the moment whenever you need it most. Go ahead, give it a try. What have you got to lose, other than layers of anxiety?

image: Giuseppe Di Giulio (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)