So many of us humans tend to go through our days on autopilot, which is essentially the opposite of mindfulness. We act unconsciously or habitually, even forming thoughts and judgments without conscious awareness of what we are doing (or why or how well). We just react.
We spend most of our energy rehashing the past or rehearsing the future: wishing, hoping, planning, ruminating, missing, regretting.
We are disconnected from what is happening in our lives — right now, in the present moment — and even within our own bodies and minds. In this mode, emotions seem to just sort of happen to us, and we might not acknowledge them, understand them, or realize we can control them.
Or we might try to dodge emotions or shut them out. Either way, this is a recipe for emotion to overwhelm us. When we are not in the moment, we don't actually feel our feelings, and that creates more of the very emotions we may wish to avoid. It also doesn't (and can't!) solve the problems we are trying to escape.
We can make another choice, however. We can switch off the autopilot and take the wheel ourselves. This starts with mindfulness. Anyone can do it, even those whose usual M.O. is a far cry from being mindful. Mindfulness is a skill like any other, so it can be learned. Also like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you will get at it.
So here's the two-word guide on how to practice mindfulness: pay attention. And I mean really pay attention. To things as they are. In the present moment.
And that's it.
Well, of course there's more (see the multitude of books and blogs already devoted to this subject). But in a nutshell, that's really all you need to know. Being mindful means summoning awareness and attention and deploying them inwardly and outwardly, with intention and compassion and without analysis or judgment. Notice all that is happening within your mind and body and in the world around you right now. Attend to one thing at a time — acknowledge, observe and accept each sensation, experience, thought and feeling as it arises —from moment to moment.
Modern life is chock-full of habits of the mind that get in the way of mindfulness. Be on the lookout for them in your own life. Steering clear of these is key to practicing mindfulness.