When I stumbled upon Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’ about seven years ago, the concept of mindfulness was completely new to me. Until then, I paid little attention to the nature and rhythms of my thoughts and actions, moving through life habitually and without much authentic and vulnerable deeper reflection. As I flipped through the pages of the book, something within was ignited as I became intuitively aware of the impact that mindfulness could have on my life.
Mindfulness is not a foreign word, but many of us aren’t quite sure exactly what it refers to and what it entails. Put quite simply, mindfulness is compassionate and non-judgmental awareness of each moment as it unfolds – exactly as it is. Mindfulness does not have any particular shape or form – it is the awareness we compassionately hold over any shape, form, or experience. It can be applied in any moment to all aspects of life, and can result in considerable, positive changes in behaviour if practiced regularly.
Over the past seven years, my own mindfulness practice has grown to encompass both formal and informal practices. From seated mindfulness meditation to conscious communication and thoughtful decision making, mindfulness has had a huge impact in the path my life has taken. Some of the simple mindfulness techniques I adopted early on (and continue to practice) include:
I have grown in many ways from practicing these techniques. Through mindfulness, my relationships with myself, with others, and with the world at large have each blossomed in unexpected and beautiful ways. Mindfulness has also helped me to clarify my values, my most authentic needs, and has empowered my decision making. It has shifted my lifestyle patterns greatly, including my alcohol consumption habits.
While the lessons and teachings that the practice of mindfulness has granted me with are infinite, these are six of the key insights I’ve gained from exploring this broader way of thinking, living, and being. Each has had powerful and positive implications on my lifestyle and habits, including my drinking consumption.
Based on our unique conditioning, we each hold a vision of what we believe it means to be ‘perfect’; and while we might spend countless units of energy (whether fiscal, emotional, mental, or physical) trying to attain that image, we never ultimately reach it. Why? Because ‘perfect’ is a mental construct that doesn’t exist in reality – and because things continually change, grow, and evolve. While I still need to check in with myself from time to time to assess if what I’m chasing is an unrealistic image of perfection, mindfulness has helped me to understand that who and where I am right now is enough. I no longer need to numb my emotions, as I know that they will pass. By being more conscious of the present moment rather than lost in my own head, I learnt that happiness is not something we can chase, but something we have to find within ourselves.
Before I encountered mindfulness, I wasn’t aware of just how unconsciously I was reaffirming old versions of myself – old versions that were, in fact, outdated and inauthentic. Bouts of anxiety and depression were largely tied to my holding onto a role of who I thought I was based on who I was in the past. Through mindfulness practice, my deeper sense of my authentic self grew and I gradually let go of limiting beliefs about who I was and what I was capable of achieving. This growing self-awareness helped me to choose lifestyle habits that were beneficial for my health, wellbeing, and happiness.
Mindfulness naturally led me to reassess relationships and behaviours that were not serving me – and for a while, I fought these reflections for fear of being lonely and making others uncomfortable. I could no longer, for instance, maintain my role of ‘party girl’ to make others happy because the truth was that my drinking habits and subsequent lifestyle was making me anxious and depressed. I’ve learned to say ‘no’ to things that do not nourish me (such as unhealthy foods and late nights out involving heavy drinking) and to take time to myself when I need to replenish my energy stores.
Through mindfulness practice (both formal meditation and thoughtful, conscious reflection), I have developed a stronger understanding and connection to what I care about. Mindfulness does not involve judging things to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it is simply a practice of paying closer attention. For instance, through being more mindful of what I eat and drink, I have gained a clearer understanding of how things such as sugar, processed foods, and alcohol affect me. This awareness has quite naturally shifted my consumption habits so eating well and drinking less is more ‘effortless’ than ‘effort’.
Compassion – for both ourselves and others – is a fundamental component of balanced, happy living. Words can be just as toxic as any physical substance, wreaking havoc on our minds and hearts if we’re not mindful of them. By taking the time to tune into what we’re telling ourselves (and what we’re saying to others), we begin to feel more whole and content – just as we are – and our relationships with others benefit from it as well. The next time you fall into the habit of being hard on yourself (for instance, because you’ve slipped away from a goal), mindfully switch your self-directed words to be ones of patience and compassion. Use whatever has happened as an opportunity for learning, and then reaffirm your intent to stay aligned with your goals.
While it would be a relief to gain some insight or experience that would end the pursuit of wellbeing, it is unlikely to happen so affirmatively. Wellness, happiness, and balance are experiences we cultivate continually through the words we speak, the substances we consume, the relationships we foster, and the decisions we make. By opening ourselves up to the idea of continued growth, and by harnessing compassion for ourselves exactly where we are, we surrender into the ever-unfolding journey with greater ease. We learn to be where we are, focusing on one breath and one step at a time.
In exploring mindfulness, we gain a stronger sense of how everything impacts us – the situations we are surrounded by, the food and drink we put into our bodies, and the decisions we make. When it comes to shifting drinking habits, mindfulness offers us a deeper understanding of just how alcohol affects our physical wellbeing, our mental health, our energy levels, our relationships, and so much more. In increasing self-knowledge this way, mindfulness naturally shapes what and how we choose to consume.
Mindfulness has opened my eyes to a different way of being, propelling me further into alignment with my authentic self and deepest aspirations. It has helped me to cut the clutter and focus on what really matters. By opening myself up to myself – and to others – I have discovered a quiet strength I hadn’t known existed. It has grown over time and continues to grow as I move more mindfully every step of the way.
[Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a content contributor to Alavida, and this contributor was paid for their writing. The opinions, views, results and experiences are theirs alone.]
Access the ALAViDA TRAiL app.
Gillian Sanger is a yoga and meditation teacher, holistic nutritionist, and creative non-fiction writer. Committed to self-inquiry and to meditation in its many forms, she practices living life in alignment with the natural world, both inside and out. She seeks guidance and direction from her heart and from her highest self, strengthening her knowledge and intuition through her personal spiritual practice and through the written word.