Mindfulness is a state of presence that helps us connect with our inner calmness. This state of calm or peace doesn't come from somewhere external but already exists within us; however, we may not access it due to our negative thoughts or worries. For instance, we might try to feel better or more peaceful by attempting to control external things (because it gives us an illusion of safety) or by resorting to various substances that momentarily distract us from our feelings, yet we still feel unsettled. This restlessness lurks in the background of our minds and is felt in our bodies as well. On the other hand, when we directly address our thoughts and emotions, calmness emanates from within.
We can achieve this state of calmness, for example, by practicing mindfulness - where all our attention is focused on what is happening in our body and mind at the present moment. We observe our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judging them as "good" or "bad." For instance, if we feel sadness, we acknowledge and accept this feeling as part of what we are experiencing at the moment and allow it to pass without clinging to it - we can visualize this emotion as a cloud in the sky, coming and going. We are the sky, and emotions are the clouds. We should be confident that we can rely on ourselves to manage what we feel because we are stronger than our emotions.
If we have a thought like "I don't think I can get over this," we observe this thought without identifying with it - we acknowledge that it is just one thought among the thousands of others we have every day. We don't have to believe it.
If we feel discomfort in our body, we observe that discomfort instead of starting to think, "Oh no, what if it's something serious," "I didn't need this right now," instead of creating future scenarios, we redirect our attention to that sensation and simply observe what is happening in our body at that moment. This state of presence helps us to be calmer because our mind no longer wanders into the future or the past, and by facing what we are feeling now, we can even "dissolve" those states through observation, as we no longer attach ourselves to them and perpetuate them into the future.
How can we achieve this state of presence?
Through breathing - when we focus our attention on breathing, we distance ourselves from the thoughts that cause us stress. How do we breathe consciously? Often, if we are agitated and force ourselves to breathe in a certain way, it can amplify our agitation because we think we need to control our breathing, we are focused on the idea of control. Regardless of how we breathe (rapidly or superficially), the first step is to observe - we don't try to change anything, we simply observe. The simple act of observing and accepting helps us calm down. As we begin to calm down, we notice that our breathing naturally changes, allowing us to naturally practice how we inhale and exhale further.
You can practice breathing deeper as follows: place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and take a deep breath through your nose. At this point, the hand on the stomach should rise, and the hand on the chest should move slightly. Exhale through your mouth, expelling as much air from your lungs as possible, at which point the hand on the stomach should lower, and the hand on the chest should move slightly. By observing how our hands move, we can determine whether we are breathing deeply, "from the stomach," or superficially, "from the chest."
By focusing on our senses - observing what we see (we can name three things that are currently in our visual field), what we hear (being attentive to the noises in the background - perhaps we perceive the sound of rain, bird chirping, or certain noises from the room next to us), what we feel (the texture of clothes on our skin, the sun's rays coming through the window), what we smell (what fragrance do we identify in the room, what other subtle aromas do we perceive now), what taste we perceive at this moment.
When our attention is focused on our senses and breathing, our mind is entirely in the present.
Being present means being aware of what is happening moment by moment within you (being aware of your thoughts, sensations, emotions, beliefs) and outside of you (being aware of what is happening in the environment you are in); to step off "autopilot."
This state of being present and aware helps us develop our ability to observe, and from an observer position, we can detach ourselves from our thoughts and emotions, create a state of calmness, and realize whether we react automatically or not, whether we have these kinds of thoughts (automatic, unconscious); it helps us get closer to our inner truth. It helps us focus our attention entirely on the activity we are performing and not fall into the spiral of negative thoughts and emotions (we observe them and let them pass).
If you want to develop this ability to be present and aware, I suggest you start practicing every day - for example, in the morning when you brush your teeth, aim to direct all your attention to the activity itself (be aware of the taste you feel, the smell, the sound of water, the movements of your body, the noises around you, etc.), when you drink coffee or eat, also be aware of tastes, textures, sensations, how you feel, the pace at which you eat.
Through meditation - it helps us focus on the present moment, slow down the pace of our thoughts, relax, calm down. There are several ways to meditate that can be explored depending on each individual's needs and desires. For example, we can observe what negative emotions we have and imagine releasing them into light, or we can observe where in our body we feel a certain emotion, such as fear, and imagine how that fear dissolves and transforms. In meditation, we can also focus on a specific object (the flame of a candle or a specific mantra) and bring our attention back to that object each time we notice that we are getting lost in our thoughts. In mindfulness meditation, we find some time when we are not disturbed, find a comfortable position, and start focusing our attention on breathing. We observe our thoughts and emotions without passing judgment - we simply become aware of what is happening within us right now.
Practicing mindfulness can help us focus our attention entirely on the present and avoid falling into the spiral of negative thoughts. Practical exercises like breathing, meditation, or focusing on our senses can become powerful tools in cultivating this state of presence. When we focus our attention on the present moment, observing our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judging them, we succeed, even for a short time, in freeing ourselves from mental agitation.
It can be useful for us to practice these techniques constantly to naturally integrate mindfulness into our daily lives. By cultivating mindful presence, we can transform our relationship with ourselves and with others, trusting that we can handle any challenges that come our way.
Dr. Ursula Sandner