Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

How to practice mindfulness and enjoy a happier life

You’ve probably heard the expression “monkey mind.” It describes the fact that without discipline, our minds will wander all over the place, find infinite distractions, become overwhelmed, overly reactive and make up stories which likely have nothing to do with what’s true. Long ago sages of the wisdom traditions of the world were aware that beyond the incessant mind chatter we also have a higher mind capable of laser focus, true clarity, objective awareness, deep insight and universal wisdom. These sages designed meditation techniques and lifestyle practices to break through the monkey mind acrobatics, allowing access to more evolved parts of our nature. These instructions have been passed down and practiced for thousands of years.

The discipline of quieting the mind and focusing in the present has a long list of scientifically proven benefits. They include stress reduction, increased brain function, superior academic performance, better decision making, less anxiety and greater immunity, accessing higher states of consciousness, wisdom and intelligence. Since the 1970s, when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin founded The Mindfulness Center in Medicine and introduced mindfulness training in this country, mindfulness has been researched extensively, taught widely, and has been adopted in schools, hospitals, businesses and rehabilitation programs.

Listen and Be Heard

Active listening is an application of mindfulness worth knowing and practicing because it is an invaluable interpersonal skill. Listening to another person without taking monkey mind diversions to recall your own experiences, memories or ideas, creates real connection and intimacy.

What typically happens in conversation while the other person speaks is our mind launches into a flood of mental chatter. Our own internal thoughts become so absorbing that our attention is diverted from the person who is speaking. All of a sudden we are having an internal conversation with ourselves. And from that moment on, we are no longer present; no personal connection or authentic communication is happening. Here is a sample of the communication benefits of just listening:

Being present to the person speaking creates room for them in your psyche and in your heart.

You are demonstrating to the other person that they matter.

You are creating a safe context for the other person to be their authentic self with you.

You are able to experience them for who they are.

And when the tables are turned, and you are speaking, and when the other person is actively listening, you feel met, seen, heard and appreciated.

Three Simple Mindfulness Practices to Try

  1. Pay attention to your breath and enjoy a deceptively simple exercise to still the mind and calm the body. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath as you naturally inhale and exhale. When the mind wanders, return to focusing your attention on your breath. Do this for at least 5 minutes, and enjoy the calming, clarifying mind/body reset.
  2. To eat mindfully is another rewarding and challenging practice to bring your attention into the present moment. Pick up a piece of fruit and with eyes open or closed, take a bite and eat it without talking. Focus your entire attention on the many sensations as you taste, chew and swallow the fruit. Enjoy discovering the nuances in the pleasurable sensations when you are noticing what you are eating. You’ll not only appreciate what you are eating; you’ll eat slower and get full faster.
  3. Practice brushing your teeth mindfully by keeping your mind focused on just the action and sensation. This is the simplest of all, and it still requires skill. Be kind and patient with yourself as you learn to become more mindful.

I leave you with the words of the poet and mystic Rumi, whose insight about mindfulness remains relevant almost 800 years after his passing, “Let go of your mind and then be mindful. Close your ears and listen!”