6 Things Mindfulness Taught Me

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:

  • Investigating my emotions – tuning into my thoughts and feelings with greater compassion and curiosity. For example, when challenging emotions or feelings arise, I have practiced taking a step back and observing the experience from a place of detachment. Rather than habitually moving towards the thought that says, for instance, “I am angry,” I try to make note of the presence of anger as a body of energy that is separate from who I am. I’ve also practiced taking a closer look at what triggered the change in mood, helping me to see whatever is happening within me with greater clarity. This clarity of thinking leads to healthier decision making, which, when it comes to alcohol consumption, can reduce our tendency to grab a drink as a way to cope.
  • Writing – journaling and blogging while embracing honesty, curiosity, and vulnerability. Writing is a great way to lessen the weight of our thoughts and worries. By putting our challenging thoughts and feelings on paper, we offer them some form of release, which helps to clear the mind and shift our perspective. Similarly, it is a powerful practice to write down things we are grateful for and any positive thoughts we are experiencing. This encourages us to pay greater attention to positive emotions, which in turn may improve our mood and illuminate the rest of our day.
  • Meditation – from breath awareness to observing recurring patterns of thought, this practice is a wonderful way to tune-in with what we feel internally while putting some distance between ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. When focusing on your breath, for instance, you begin to observe both the breath and body with greater awareness, uncovering any hidden points of tension that are present. In meditation, your thoughts and emotions are observed under a broader perspective; rather than engaging with them, you are invited to simply witness them pass through you, among other thoughts and physical sensations that may be present. Quick tip: whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to focus exclusively on your breath, simply watching its movement into and out of the body. If you deepen your breathing during this practice, your stress response lessens and you come to experience a growing sense of relaxation. This will help you to center yourself as you naturally disengage from whatever thought, emotion, or behaviour generated the stress.
  • Nature observation – tuning in with greater care to the world around me, including the earth, animals, people, and substances our environment is made of. By paying attention to what surrounds us, repetitive thinking and rumination slows or becomes clearer. As we mindfully tune into the natural world, we often find ourselves becoming more thoughtful and intentional in our actions. This clarity of mind helps us to make healthy, empowering decisions that promote our wellbeing.

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.

  1. There is no such thing as perfect; rather, mindfulness offers us compassion, acceptance, and patience as we evolve into new ways of being.

    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.

  2. I am not bound by my past and can always redefine who I am and the direction I wish to move in.

    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.

  3. Prioritizing my wellbeing is not selfish.

    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. 

  4. Mindfulness has helped me to clarify my values, and in doing so, shifted my consumption habits.

    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’.

  5. Compassion is crucial when it comes to living well.

    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.

  6. Wellness is a life-long journey that becomes effortless when we fully adopt mindful living.

    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.]

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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.