One of the simplest and most easily accessible definitions I've come across for "mindfulness" is "the mind observing itself". It's for this reason that mindfulness is made available to us in what I call "micro-moments" (quick moments of awareness) throughout the day. In this way, mindfulness can become a daily practice, interwoven into the franticness of our daily lives.
For a long time I sought grounding and peace through a daily morning meditation; that is, focused and set periods of time sitting on a meditation cushion, attempting to clear my mind of distracting thoughts by practicing non-attachment to whatever would enter the cognitive space. While this proved to be an interesting exercise in discipline and patience, I found that the meditation did not necessarily carry over into the rest of my day.
One day, after describing my daily process for trying to stay present/aware to a psychiatrist friend/mentor, he challenged me to try something different. I had been describing a pattern that I was working to fix:
"I find myself frequently rushing through the day, so focused on what's next or where I'm supposed to be that I miss out on the present moment. Sometimes at the end of the day, I wonder if I've really been there for anything I did. I'm getting through life, but that's not good enough; I want to experience life. I feel calm at the end of my meditation sessions in the morning, but then I feel like I get thrusted into the rapidly moving current of the day. I become so focused on the next thing, that I never have the opportunity to look around and appreciate the scenery."
"The next time you find yourself in a hurry, don't do anything. Just note, either in your head or maybe even by saying out out loud: 'wow, I'm really in a hurry right now'. Don't attempt to stop and meditate, don't do any intervention, just acknowledge what's happening in the moment." [hence, the mind observing itself]
Amazingly, this quick acknowledgement proved quite effective. I began to notice that simply acknowledging what was happening ("I'm in a hurry") began to help me slow down, breathe, and bring more presence to the current moment. What happened is I would inevitably slow down. It didn't take 20 minutes, it didn't require a meditation cushion, and it could be applied anywhere and under any conditions.
So, I invite you to try this. If you need help, set a watch or phone alarm to go off at a few key times throughout your day. Or, pick a recurring daily activity (maybe washing your hands). When this stimulus happens, allow the mind to observe itself. What's happening for you in those moments?
Are you in a hurry?
Are you feeling inadequate or like a failure?
Are you being critical of yourself?
Are you loving yourself?
Do you feel strong and capable?
Notice the thing, whatever it is, and treat it with non-judgment and non-attachment. The acknowledgement itself is the intervention.
Finally, remember that the thoughts you notice are REAL but they are not necessarily TRUE. (More on that for my next post...)
I'll end with this quote from the Dalai Lama:
"Man...is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."