Have you ever had a day where you felt like everything was going wrong? Maybe you spilt your coffee, or rushed to your next task without realizing you’d left something behind. Somehow little things kept happening, and these little things left you feeling stressed and angry, maybe even to the point of giving up.
You probably wished that time would somehow just stop and let you reboot. Maybe you wanted to start the day over or crawl into bed and fall asleep.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t stop. It constantly beckons (sometimes forcing) you to continue with it. You can’t always seek refuge under the covers, knowing you have responsibilities and goals that won’t wait for you.
You can’t stop time, but a solution does exist that will make you more aware and better prepared for the present. It prevents flustered coffee spills, bolsters brain power and brings clarity to the mind and heart in situations that could otherwise be high stress.
This solution is called mindfulness, and I’m going to show you how to cultivate it.
I’d been reading about mindfulness for some time, through books like An Open Heart by the Dali Lama, before I had an experience that was an incredible demonstration of the power that mindfulness can have.
In college, I was introduced to an amazing organization in Missouri called Community360. C360 focuses on engaging high school and college students in dialogues about systems of oppression and our individual roles in these systems.
Systemic oppression is perpetuated by patterns and C360 promotes the disruption of these patterns through Awareness, Acknowledgement, and Action at the individual level.
Through these dialogues, I became aware of the patterns that allow me to perpetuate oppression, I acknowledged that these patterns are occurring, and now I act to alter these harmful patterns.
For me, these three A’s are a manifestation of mindfulness.
Mindfulness serves to expose the patterns you perpetuate in your life. Patterns, when repeated, become habits. When being mindful to your habits, you can decide which are productive and which are harmful to yourself and others.
Once you become aware of and acknowledge these habits, you are then able to take steps to create new patterns that better serve you – like the pattern of being mindful. In regards to oppression, mindfulness is critical to achieve an equitable and unoppressive future. In regards to daily life, mindfulness can help you reach your full potential.
I use mindfulness as a spiritual practice. It guides my perspective each day. Mindfulness as a practice is going to look different for everyone, since we all relate to the world in different ways, but there are 7 key practices and principles anyone can use to cultivate mindfulness in their own life.
As a part of becoming aware of your patterns, it is crucial that you work to connect with yourself. You can do this through a Self Connection Practice (SCP), which is a tool I was introduced to through C360.
In SCP, you periodically focus on stopping what you’re doing and taking a centering breath. You focus on your emotions and your body, and whatever you sense, you name it, acknowledging your state of being. Then, you connect that emotion to a need. Let's take a look at an example:
[Inhale & Exhale] “I’m feeling stressed… I need organization.”
[Inhale & Exhale] “I’m feeling content… my need for productivity has been met.”
There are many ways to hold yourself accountable to SCP. You can simply state these things to yourself in your mind, although this may be hard to maintain at first. You can get a notebook and record your SCP. You can also recruit a friend, and have them be your SCP partner. Together you can share your self-connection practice and hold one another accountable.
Below are lists of different emotions you might feel, and some needs to identify. The emotions and needs do not correspond to one another in the lists below: they are to be viewed individually.
- To be accepted
- Physical comfort
- Personal space
- To be challenged
2. Define Your Needs and Expectations
It is crucial to communicate your feelings, needs, and expectations to those you surround yourself with. It is not something that can be done once. It must be habitual.
Unspoken expectations lead to resentment, miscommunication and confusion. You must be present to these things within your relationships (whether personal or at work). And most importantly, you have to be honest with yourself about your personal goals and expectations.
Whatever it is that you need to facilitate this process of defining needs and expectations, make it happen.
If you need to write yourself or someone else a letter, go ahead. Perhaps you need a conversation over the phone or in person. Allow yourself the time and space for this, and you will be writing yourself a blank check for improved relationships and a mindful future.
Lastly, be open to change. Your needs and expectations will change over time, and continuing to communicate will allow you to adapt accordingly.
3. Set Intentions
When you begin each day, do you think about the fact that you are alive? You have another day in which to breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, cry, connect and live. This is such an immensely important thing!
Whether you choose to be grateful or accomplish a specific goal, make the most of each day by setting an intention for yourself. Write it down somewhere, or wear a certain piece of clothing or jewelry that will remind you of your intention. Return to it throughout the day to prevent straying too from it.
Intentions will help you make the most out of your time and remain centered. When you look at each day as a new opportunity, as a gift, your life will be full of beauty and possibilities. You’ll find yourself achieving your long-term goals before you even know it.
4. Create A Spark
Your spark serves as a reminder of your intentions. Write yourself a post-it note, somewhere you know you’ll see it. Use your breath to center yourself in stressful moments. Pull impactful quotes from people you admire and use their wisdom to fuel you. Leave an alarm or timer to remind you to meditate, breathe, or use your outlet (see below).
Whatever sort of stimulus works for you, make it accessible and use it frequently.
5. Have An Outlet
Whether you choose to write, play music, garden, practice yoga, exercise or draw, find a way you can channel your energy into a task that allows you to fall into a flow. When you’re in a flow state, you are completely immersed in the present moment. Everything else fades away. These flow-triggering activities are excellent ways to center yourself or connect with the present moment.
6. Establish A Community
Humans are social creatures. Although we relate to each other in different ways, human beings need community. When we cultivate mindfulness, we can rely on one another.
Think about your close friends, an acquaintance with similar goals, a family member, and chat with them about your intentions to practice mindfulness. Ask them for whatever support or help you need. Whether that’s weekly chats to debrief or daily encouraging texts, form a community that will love and support your mindful endeavors.
An example of this, in my own life, is choosing to surround myself with close friends that enjoy intentional time together, so that we can express our feelings and needs in a welcoming space and encourage one another to continue growing. We might only see one another once a week or every two weeks, but by connecting with them I remember that I am not isolated and can appreciate other perspectives.
An added bonus is that relationships are the perfect place to exercise mindfulness, especially starting out. By giving my intentional time to those I love, I can better understand how to afford that same time to myself and others in my life.
It is so important to give yourself the space and time for introspection and reflection. For me, this step is where the lessons from each day are truly given the space and time to mature and develop.
So, using your outlet, your spark, and your community, set aside some time for yourself to reflect upon your experiences of the past day or week. Observe any feelings that arise as you reflect and any goals or intentions you have moving forward.
These 7 steps can serve to guide anyone seeking to incorporate mindfulness into their lives. They will look different for everyone and should fit naturally into your life, especially after an initial trial period.
However, the most important thing to remember is that mindfulness is not a one-dose-cures-all solution. It is a practice, and these steps should become as habitual as breathing.
That takes time and perseverance. I can share many specific experiences that I have had (repeated and manifested in many different ways over time) in which I stopped incorporating these steps into my daily routine and found myself falling into harmful patterns as a result.
Much like eating food and drinking water nourishes our physical body each day, mindfulness can nourish our souls and fuel our goals. We just have to continue to water the seeds.
Hey there! My name is Sami. I'm an aspiring gardner, mindfulness practitioner and idea enthusiast. Above all else, I'm a lifetime learner. By day, I work to build partnerships and develop metrics to further the implementation of sustainable practices in agriculture. By night, I'm a chef in my own kitchen, a reader, a partner, a friend and a yogi. I'm learning the guitar, how to plant and grow seeds and what it means to live a meaningful life. Meet me at samitellatin.com.