This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Jonathan Turnbull-Reilly is an engineer at Wistia. This is his first Non Sequitur!
Pause. Take a deep breath.
What is happening right now?
Do you hear cars honking outside, or co-workers chatting? Maybe the soft clicking of keyboards, or a rumbling HVAC unit?
What do you notice? What do you feel? What are you thinking?
Right now, I am hearing wind riffling through the leaves outside, punctuated every few minutes by the whoosh of a passing car. Or the cat batting something fragile from someplace elevated.
Personally, my back feels a little stiff, probably from hunching over my laptop. Thoughts? There's one floating around about the three quarters of a Non Sequitur I wrote earlier today, before ditching it. There's another about my wife's parents visiting this weekend, a couple about my current project, and one wondering how Helion will match up against Lockheed in developing compact fusion reactors.
The wind is still blowing.
What is mindfulness?
At its simplest, being mindful means being fully aware of the present moment, from your surroundings to your body to your thoughts and emotions. You'll often hear it talked about in the context of mindfulness meditation*. In mindfuless meditation, you practice focusing on your breath as a way to bring your attention to the present. In mindfuless meditation, the idea is to experience that moment primarily as an observer, or without judgement.
* As a brief note: although meditation practices exist in almost every major religion, the meditation I am referring to here is more or less a secular practice.
An example of judgement: during meditation, I hear a car honk. If I think, "great, now my concentration is ruined," I am making a judgement about that sound, and I probably will ruin my concentration if I begin to focus on how annoyed I am. The goal instead is to allow thoughts and stimuli to pass by unimpeded.
Mindfulness meditation often includes some form of a "body scan." This just means focusing on different parts of your body to see what they're up to. Some people do this by imagining a light or heat starting in their scalp and systematically moving through their face, neck, back, arms, etc. It's a way to look at your body in sequence and get a better understanding of all the sensations you are taking in at once.
But why do it?
For one, the mind can be a chaotic place. Once you begin noticing all of the thoughts and impulses clamoring for your attention, it begins to feel a little like a session at the House of Commons. All of those firing synapses and competing thoughts raise background stress levels.
When you slow down and start to observe your thoughts one by one, they begin to fall into order or fade away, leaving you with less chaos and less overall anxiety. When you gather more information about your environment, body, and thoughts, you are always better equipped to make decisions throughout your day.
Mindfulness is a deep subject. But the great thing about it is that a little can go a long way. Here is an even simpler exercise:
Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to five. At the top, hold it for a second, then let it out slowly through your lips. Stretch your fingers out in front of you and wiggle your toes to feel the floor beneath you. Close your eyes and check in with your body and before looking up at the world around you. For that moment, just observe that you are here.
Some notes on apps
If you have never tried mindfulness before and are looking for a place to start, I'm a big fan of Headspace. This app offers an easy set of guided mindfulness exercises for free, as well as some more advanced options for a small price. Each one runs approximately ten minutes.
If you'd rather go guideless, apps like the Insight Timer offer variations on a simple theme: a long, pleasant bell to mark the start and end of your mindfulness session.