There was a long period of time in my life when I was not mindful or plugged into the world around me. Sometime around the ages of 10 or 11, I felt like I stopped participating in life.
I remember thinking that it was easier for me to coast through life. I didn’t put forth any effort because I knew I would “get by”. I struggled to keep my grades up and to finish my homework. I wasted so much of my life not learning and experiencing everything in each moment.
Sadly, this continued until I was 32. I missed being fully present for over 20 years! I look back on this time and realize now that there were so many missed opportunities and connections, both in school and socially.
I started being more mindful when I began taking Kung Fu and even more when I realized improv was all about being present. Before each Kung Fu class we would meditate. Learning how to meditate helped me with how to become mindful, but improv helped me with why I should become mindful.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
Improv forces you to be constantly mindful and engaged in the present. The moment your mind is not focused on the scene, is the moment you miss a critical detail. The best improvisers are fully present and aware of everything in the scene. They’re not in their head trying to make the best choices and they’re not dreaming up some witty response. They are taking in everything that is happening and reacting in the moment.
How I became more mindful
Becoming mindful is not something where you just “flip a switch” and you’re done. Practicing mindfulness is a never ending process. It does get easier with practice, but it comes down to being able to focus your attention.
I started with checking in with myself multiple times a day. (For me this was the hardest part. Set a timer if you need to.) I will pause from whatever I’m doing and notice how I feel (physically and emotionally), listening to the sounds I hear, what I see, etc.; basically, I switch through all of my five senses.
I would study one particular thing in great detail. For example, if you’re sitting in a empty waiting room, notice how many chairs there are, how they’re aligned, the texture of the seats, etc. I’ll try to study each detail so that I could draw or describe it from memory.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Our time is limited, so why not make the most of it? If you’re speaking with someone, be fully engaged and listen. If you’re relaxing, be fully aware that the sun is shining, that the tree leaves are gently flipping, and your mind is nowhere else but the present.
I urge you not to let another second go by without being present. Notice the little details around you. Commit yourself to listening and feeling when talking to others.
“Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
How do you practice mindfulness?