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Guest Column: Mindful Awareness

Author: Tim Carl
April, 2015 Issue

One of the biggest reasons mindful awareness is so popular is that it lets people slow down and relax.

One of the biggest trends in 2015 is mindful awareness. If you haven’t heard about its broad use and many benefits, you’ve probably been out camping in the woods without technology or media access for the last few months.
Mindful awareness incorporates meditation into a variety of techniques meant to improve well being and performance. Although becoming mindfully aware requires very little other than consistent practice, the concept has spawned hundreds of products, including apps for your phone, books, movies, videos and seminars. There are even coaches and retreats to help.
The three main tenets of the practice include improving concentration and focus, monitoring thoughts and feelings without judgment, and accepting yourself and others as they are. Most of the ideas come from Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, but the practice also pulls from non-secular traditions and even psychology.
One of the biggest reasons it’s so popular is that it lets people slow down and relax. Humans have evolved to observe and assess their surroundings for danger and opportunity: We worry about threats and constantly evaluate what’s already happened to determine how to avoid repeating uncomfortable or harmful situations. Thus, our minds spend much of the time either planning for the future or judging the past. This has worked very well—up to a point. The trouble is, in our modern world, with its countless distractions, these natural tendencies have a way of getting out of control. And when they do, our minds spend very little time attending to the present moment. While we eat our food, we check our phones, view a Facebook post, plan for some future event or fret about the past. At work, we might spend our time thinking about how much fun the weekend will be instead of focusing on what we’re doing, thereby making frustrating mistakes.
Have you ever spoken with someone who’s really listening? They seem to be hearing each of your words and understanding what you’re talking about. In these situations, the person doesn’t do much talking or judging. If they do speak, it might be to ask a clarifying question or provide support. The listener is just hearing the speaker. At the end of those conversations, the speaker often walks away relieved and satisfied. They may even feel accepted and loved. They’ve been truly heard—a rare commodity—and the relationship has deepened.
The listener, in this case, is being mindfully aware. He or she has displayed focused concentration, nonjudgmental awareness and loving acceptance. Listening attentively sounds so simple, yet can be difficult to put into practice.
Beyond listening in a concentrated and open manner to yourself and others, mindful awareness practice attempts to improve all the senses, including paying closer attention to your internal thoughts.
And here’s the thing: Not only can adopting an attitude of mindful awareness deepen relationships, but proof is piling up that it can improve health and performance. Study after study shows it improves everything from sleep quality to cancer treatment outcomes. Other studies show that children can improve test scores and grades using these techniques. Companies around the globe, including Apple and Procter & Gamble, are employing these practices to enhance creativity and productivity.
So how do you begin practicing mindful awareness? It’s simple, free and you can start today. Sit comfortably. Breathe in and out normally. Don’t force your breath. Relax your shoulders. Loosen your jaw. Release any tension from your neck. Let your arms become heavy.
As you breathe in, it might help to count your breaths: Count “one” as you breathe in and repeat “one” as you breathe out. On the next breath, count “two.” Each in-and-out breath makes one cycle. If a thought passes through your mind, observe it without judgment and then come back to your breath. If you lose track of counting, just start over at “one.” Continue doing this for five minutes. Next time, try it with closed eyes. That’s it. You’re on your way to becoming more mindfully aware.
The next step would be to increase the amount of time of your practice and to begin to engage with the world using your newfound concentration and peace of mind. You might also want to read a few books or even download one of the many apps that can help. I've listed a few here, and i hope you enjoy them.

Six Mindful Awareness Books

Shunryu Suzuki, Not Always So
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness
Joseph Goldstein, The Experience Of Insight
Rebecca Z. Shafir, The Zen of Listening

Six Mindful Awareness Apps

Calm (Great place to start a daily practice)
Meditate (Excellent timer and bells)
Insight Timer (Amazing bell sounds and meditation groups)
Headspace (Hip English guide)
Zen180 (Sounds and music)
Smiling Mind (Meditation “made easy”)
Tim Carl, Ph.D., is a mindful awareness instructor and long-term advocate and practitioner of meditation. He’s studied science at Harvard, has been a business consultant at McKinsey & Co. and co-founded Knights Bridge Winery. Presently, he lives and writes in Calistoga with his wife, dog and cat. His two children have left the house for college and are pursuing their own paths. You can follow him @tim_carl on Twitter or email him directly at .



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