Numb to the Moment
“We have become numb to our present-moment experience,” says Vicki Overfelt, who conducts Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes in Salt Lake City as part of the Mindfulness Utah program. “It’s easy to go through your day in a very robotic, automatic way. We don’t even realize how distracted we are.”
In contrast, mindfulness practice cultivates an active, nonjudgmental awareness of the thoughts, emotions and sensations of our present-moment experience. The mindfulness movement has caught the attention of everyone from mothers trying to savor their time with young children to athletes hoping to win the next game and CEOs looking to increase company efficiency.
“As a culture, we take pride in being busy,” Overfelt says. “We get a lot done, but many of us feel dissatisfied and disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. We can actually accomplish the same amount, if not more, with mindfulness. The more focused you are, the more efficient you become, and the more you approach life in a thoughtful and creative way.”
While mindfulness doesn’t equate to a worry-free life, it does help people acknowledge and cope with inevitable stress. People who practice mindfulness often describe an overall improvement in quality of life, health and happiness as they break the habit of distraction and relearn how to pay attention.
“Mindfulness is an inherent human quality. We already have it, it’s just covered up by our frenetic activity,” Overfelt says.
To discover your own mindfulness, Overfelt suggests a few daily steps:
1. Mind the Mundane
Rather than rush through your routine, focus on each task. When you drive, turn off the radio and pay attention to how it feels to turn the wheel or hit the brakes. Notice your surroundings. When you take a shower, notice the water pressure, the temperature of the water, the smell of the shampoo. When your mind wanders, acknowledge your mind has pulled you away and pull it back to the present experience.
2. Savor the Flavor
Take a moment to look at your food as you eat. Try to distinguish each flavor as you chew. Notice the taste, smell and touch.
3. S.T.O.P. Often
Stop. Notice what it feels like to stop moving, to stop doing.
Take a breath. Notice the quality of your breath. Is it slow and rhythmic or shallow?
Observe your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Acknowledge what you’re experiencing without trying to change it. Also acknowledge that you have a choice in how you step back into this moment. For example, if you feel anger, you may choose to take a walk to cool off before responding to the situation.
Proceed. Step back into your life and notice how you engage in the next moments.
4. Distance the Digital
Put some space between you and the devices in your life. Remove the temptation to frequently check email and texts, which pull you out of the present moment. Turn off your text alerts occasionally. Move your phone away from your bedside table and replace it with an alarm clock.
5. Take Time for Training
Formal mindfulness exercises may include seated or walking meditation, yoga or tai chi. Phone apps such as Headspace also offer guided meditations. People with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, depression or substance abuse, should consult a professional before beginning any formal meditation regimen.
Our minds are busy places. We ponder grocery lists while we drive and plan tomorrow’s schedule as we brush our teeth. We check email while our daughter tells us about her day.
Many people, however, are discovering greater happiness and productivity by turning off the noise and tuning in to themselves. In an age of multitasking and digital distraction, mindfulness has emerged as the antithesis to life on autopilot.