Mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword. However, it’s a very real and very serious concept with amazing benefits. In this article I give a high level overview of mindfulness, what it is, who it’s for and why it’s important. I also share a proven technique that will help you learn and incorporate mindfulness into your life.
Mindfulness is an art, the art of observation. It’s like people watching, but instead of watching people you are watching your thoughts. When we observe our thoughts we are better able to manage and control them, which is a pivotal part of emotional intelligence. (EQ is considered the #1 determinate of success, more about that here.)
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Importance of Mindfulness
Observing our thoughts makes us objective to them, instead of an unknowing advocate of them. When we are mindful of our thoughts we respond instead of react. We are powerful. We are more likely to act in accordance with our goals. We are better able to avoid saying and doing thing we will regret, and we are closer to happiness and connection.
On the opposite end, when we are not mindful of our thoughts they can create suffering and depression. We suffer when we are stuck thinking about something that happened in the past (depression), or when we worry about the future or things we can’t control (anxiety).
Who Should Practice Mindfulness
If you are a being with a pulse and consciousness you should be practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness will help in every aspect of your life, including common situations like:
- Looping thoughts of a cringeworthy event (eek, I can’t believe I did that)
- Worriment over what is going to happen in uncontrollable situations
- Inability to sleep due to thoughts (I’m tired but my brain is wide awake)
- Worriment over things you can’t control
- Invasive or negative thoughts that are interrupting your life (OCD, PTSD)
- Worse case and “what-if’ thinking
- Quieting a harsh inner critique and inner voice
- Felling stuck and having invasive, limiting beliefs
I found this technique while reading the book “How Can I Help?” by Ram Dass and have found several different version of the technique online. The idea here is to use visualization and to create images of your thoughts by using a concrete object (leaves).
This practice teaches us how to observe and accept thoughts as we would observe and accept the natural event of leaves floating in a river (or falling from trees). As a result we will be better able to live in the present, accept life changes and control invasive, negative or unhealthy thoughts. We increase our emotional intelligence.
This technique is great for anyone who is interested in meditation as mediation starts with emptying the mind of thought. When we let our thoughts float we empty them from our mind.
Allow your thoughts to Float Like Leaves
- Visualize a gently flowing river. Imagine leaves from the trees along the riverbank falling into the water and floating past you until they are no longer in sight.
- When a thought comes into your mind visualize that thought as a leaf (or sitting on the leaf). Imagine that leaf falling from a tree and floating down the river until it is out of sight.
Tips for Success
When first starting it is best to sit in a quiet place, take a few deep breaths and relax your body. Once you are in practice you will be able to do this exercise while wide eyed and conscious. If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, I could have very well have been doing it while we we’re talking.
This technique is effective but may take some time to learn. The first step in learning is repetition. When you find yourself being caught up in thought, perhaps right before bed, try and activate this technique. Other thoughts may creep into your mind while you are visualizing and using this technique. Turn them into leaves as well.
Just like all leaves are leaves, all thoughts are thoughts. Meaning they are all the same in being and it is we who create their context. Even the most powerful and invasive thought can float down a river. If it tries to come back up stream, float it down again.
My Experience With This Exercise
I started using this exercise about two years ago and I’ve experienced incredible benefits. For me, the visualization is not difficult. However, simply reminding myself to do the technique is what needs work!
In the fall, nature reminds me. On Friday I took a walk in Valley Forge Park, and at one point I found myself walking down a tree line path with leaves falling all around me. I looked at my feet and leaves paved the entire trail.
I imagined what it would be like to be tasked with going around and picking up all of the leaves. I was then reminded of the burden that carrying some thoughts can bring, and gained an added appreciation for landscapers.
Photo by Sandis Helvigs