Mindfulness has been on my mind a lot lately. In the past couple of years, I've developed a growing interest in ideas surrounding mindfulness and other related activities, such as meditation.
A Google news search turns up more than 100,000 articles on the topic, and New Republic has a recent article called "How 2014 Became the Year of Mindfulness." There are countless articles, books and opinions to delve into.
By definition, mindfulness is "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis."
Full disclosure, and it's probably obvious, I am no expert on any of this. But I hope this column will take me (and readers) through an interesting evolution of ideas and learning.
I plan to speak to teachers and other experts to unravel as many facets of mindfulness and related ideas/practices as possible and write about what I learn monthly.
That's what to expect from future columns, but first a bit about how I came to want to explore all this.
It's possible all the media coverage of the topic had a subconscious effect on me, but I didn't purposely seek out mindfulness because it had become trendy. Some of the foundations of mindfulness have been part of who I've always been and who I want to become.
Growing up, I watched my mother practice and value meditation and yoga. Ideas that I would now identify as being mindful were always present in my home, if only at a relatively small level.
And, although I'm not religious, I've been attracted to some principles of Buddhism, which is where the concept of mindfulness originated.
I really latched on to the practice of mindfulness after my longtime friend and co-worker Sean Phipps introduced me to Eckhart Tolle's writings "A New Earth" and "The Power of Now."
"A New Earth" really resonated with me. I've listened to the audio book countless times and read it at least twice.
I started reading more about mindfulness and meditation, then joined the Center for Mindful Living, located at 1212 McCallie Ave.
What I've learned so far (I am not my thoughts.)
I used to be one of those people who thought meditation was an impossible task, at least for me.
I have generalized anxiety disorder, and a racing mind is just part of who I am. It's part of what causes me anxiety, and it's the opposite of being mindful.
The idea of stopping my neurotic, obsessive mind seemed impossible, but I'm often desperate to do just that.
Upon reading Tolle's work, I had a major personal revelation: I am not my mind; I am not the thoughts in my mind.
Whoa. That was a powerful epiphany.
The moment I realized that I am something beyond all my thoughts—many of which are anxiety-inducing and some of which seem insane, frankly—I felt empowered and free.
And I wanted to know more about mindfulness, meditation and ego, which Tolle writes a lot about as the source of many problems.
I also recently realized something else new, which is that mindfulness and meditation is a practice. The key word here is "practice."
And obsessing about whether my mind is completely clear or whether I'm always perfectly aware of my thoughts and how they impact my life is totally contrary to the practice.
I'm a runner and former high school athlete, so when I put mindfulness in the perspective of my sports training, something clicked. I didn't start playing basketball and just know how to make a 3-pointer. I couldn't even make a layup when I started.
I didn't start running by signing up for a marathon. I had to practice.
I practice yoga. I practice writing. And when I started thinking about mindfulness in the way I do these other things, it felt much more achievable.
In preparation for this column, I interviewed local acupuncturist Dr. Yong Oh, who also practices and explores mindfulness and meditation. I learned that sometimes during retreats he meditates for hours on end. He also shares articles about meditation and mindfulness, as well as personal details (such as the fact he's now at a retreat in South Africa), via a Facebook page called Mindful Chattanooga.
There was something that struck me about him. His presence was very calm. It was almost unsettling to me because my natural state doesn't have that same energy.
More often, people are conforming to social norms, tuning out of the current moment while plugging into technology and filling awkward silences or avoiding them. All those actions give off a very different feeling than what I got from Oh.
He was very present. He paused before responding to my questions. It felt like he was totally in the moment.
By contrast, my mind was listening to him, obsessing about what I was going to say next, worrying that my phone wasn't recording properly, tormenting myself for nearly interrupting him, wondering if the coffee I was drinking would keep me up late and indulging countless other random thoughts.
Practicing mindfulness can only encourage the ability to be more present. I'm thinking that might be a step toward contentment and happiness.
And isn't that what we're all looking for?
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.