Mindfulness – be there where you are

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

Since I was a teenager, people where asking me why I appear so relaxed, so grounded, and happy. They’ve been asking me what my secret is. I didn’t know what they were talking about, it seemed natural to me. It’s not a big secret, but I guess, being born with a hearing disability made me automatically more aware of where I am. I didn’t know what my “secret” was until I studied Psychology and came across the concept of “mindfulness”. I found a word for my secret, and I want to share that “secret” of mindfulness with you.

In general, it’s all about the current moment. You have two options to be aware of that moment, let me describe this for you with my current situation:

Option 1: I am stressed; I just delivered the kids to school and decided that I want a coffee at Starbucks. I have to work later; I should drink my coffee in the car.

Option 2: It is 8am in the morning now. I just delivered the kids to school and decided that I want a coffee now. I earned it! Instead of drinking it in the car, I decided to have a seat. I am sitting in the background at Starbuck’s, my laptop on a wooden desk. I am sitting on a metal chair. I see almost ten people, waiting in line for their coffee or breakfast, most of them playing with their phone. I smell freshly brewed coffee, and the perfume of the lady sitting next to me. The coffee smells like… hazelnut? Walnuts? It definitely smells like roasted coffee beans (duh!). The perfume smells like lillies, and jasmine. Maybe like roses? Sipping on my pumpkin spice latte, I can taste the spicy components of my coffee. I can taste (of course!) coffee. It reminds me of my childhood, and brings back warm memories of my mother and grandmother. I can taste some pumpkin spice. It brings back warm memories of being together with friends and family, Thanksgiving. I automatically start to become more happy, thinking of my next thanksgiving, my first one in the US with the family.

What do you think – which option sounds more relaxing? Which option is able – by just reading it – to paint a picture in your head? I bet it is the second option. And that is very much how I live my life. Mindfulness. To be aware of where I am, and to enjoy that very moment. The BIG secret. But what exactly is mindfulness and how can it help you in your life?

Mindfulness (or awareness) is a psychological construct; it comes from (Zen-)Buddhism and there are several definitions of the word. Roughly, it describes an actively watchful mind, combined with special breathing techniques – it is a special kind of mediation. It is widely used in modern psychological interventions (I use it regularly in my own practice). In general, research about mindfulness has a strong connection to positive psychology. Results show that practicing mindfulness can have a strong impact on your brain (after two weeks only); with improvements in your mental health and general happiness.

I am (almost) always aware of where I am. Sometimes I am in a rush too, busy, distressed. But then I try to find a mindfulness moment. A silent moment. To bring me back “to life”, to be aware of my presence, where I am. With this ability you feel like the eye of a tornado; no matter how stormy things are in your life, it is peacefully relaxing in YOUR center within you.

There are several mindfulness techniques in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and some of them are very useful for you to improve your mental health and happiness in general. Just start with one simple exercise and include it in your daily routine (as described in option 2 above):

Instead of rushing through your life, your head full with ideas about the future and the day, your next meetings, kids stuff, your work, the to-do list, and and and .. STOP! Make a break. Right now, no matter where you are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Be aware of where you are. Where are you at the moment? What are you doing?
  • Start breathing into your stomach. It calms you down automatically.
  • Are you standing, walking or sitting? What are your physical sensations? When you walk: Walk like your feet are kissing the earth. Feel the physical sensation.
  • What do you see around you? Watch the people, what are they doing? What do you hear?
  • Breathe deeply. What can you smell? Do you have any memories connected with that smell?
  • Be aware of where you are. Try to enjoy the moment. Stop phubbing (using your mobile phone) and look around you. Smile at someone. Enjoy the moment.
  • You are here, your presence, and it is the only moment you have – the past is gone, and the future is not here yet.

If you start being aware of where you are and what you are doing, you bring more mindfulness in your life. If you are attentive, you will realize that you find joy in your very current situation, no matter where you are (sitting in a car, in an elevator, waiting in line at Starbucks, etc.). Have fun experimenting with your awareness and including mindfulness in your life. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me via email or leave a comment.

About the writer: Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum is a Licensed Psychologist, and the founder and director of Thrive in Life Counseling and Therapy LLC, his private practice in Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee. He is a researcher as well as the author of several peer-reviewed papers and book-chapters about internet gaming disorder, internet addiction and anxiety disorders. He offers services in English and German. Dr. Mario Lehenbauer-Baum diagnoses and treats individuals, couples and groups with a wide range of challenges in their lives, such as internet addiction, video game addiction, ADHD, shyness, social anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders, phobias, diversity, relationship issues, mens issues, career and life challenges, marital and couple issues and other challenges. His research work focuses on “new” technologies, such as online-based social skills trainings as well as the “side effects” of using new technologies, such as addiction.