[Originally published on Huffington Post]
Much of our work with organizations and individuals centers around the development of what we call “mind fitness.” Mind fitness means having a mind that’s fit for action and insight. At the heart and core of this kind of mind-body-spirit training is the practice of “mindful presence” — the essential key to mind fitness.
In future blog posts, we’ll introduce and invite you to explore the various disciplines of mind fitness. While all of these are vital to success, foremost and foundational among them is the discipline of mindful presence, so we’ll begin here. This discipline is developed through the cultivation of mindfulness and the mastery of attention. Research shows that daily practice of mindfulness creates measurable changes in brain function associated with decreases in our vulnerability to stress and distress, increases our enjoyment of the moment, improves health and performance, increases our happiness, improves emotional intelligence and deepens the wisdom, confidence and courage we bring to life — and work!
The cultivation of mindfulness is essentially the practice of presence, deep listening and awareness. Mindfulness enables you to wake up and be more fully present to what is really going on in your inner and outer worlds, and to the stream of moment-to-moment change. Mindfulness offers you greater choice and the capacity to live-on-purpose as an alternative to living a reactionary life dominated by mindless habit and out of control reactivity.
The practice of mindfulness also provides a powerful tool to discover the true depth and dimension of our experience. As we see more clearly and understand more deeply, our insight grows and opens new dimensions of freedom, health and change resilience in our lives. Mindfulness is the basis of wisdom, appreciation and gratitude. Its essence is deep listening, an open, non-judgmental yet discerning quality of attentiveness that embraces every fleeting experience with acceptance, investigation and non-attachment.
To experience mindfulness in this moment:
- Simply look out through your eyes right now and know that you are seeing.
- Bring your attention to the easy natural flow of your breathing, being mindful of the stream of sensations as you breathe in … and being mindful as you breathe out … By being mindful of the natural flow of your breathing, you develop a way to anchor and stabilize your mindful, clear presence within the streaming flow of moment-to-moment change that is your life.
- Allow this clear, natural mindfulness to welcome the coming and flowing of every element of your experience. Notice how every sound, sight, sensation, thought, feeling and experience comes and flows. Be mindful of the river of change that flows as your life with awareness.
- Complement your mindful awareness with a gentle, self-referential smile — like a smile in your heart. This smile will help you maintain a sense of perspective, curiosity, acceptance and open-mindedness. Smiling gently in this way will also help protect you from trying too hard or being too self-critical in your cultivation of mindfulness.
- Throughout the day, bring your mindful, clear presence to whatever you are doing and to being more fully present with whomever you are with.
- Experiment with setting the intention to be more mindful and present with simple activities that have a clear beginning and end. For example, mindfully walk from the parking lot to your office, take a mindful shower, eat a mindful meal or go for a mindful walk or jog.
- When your mind wanders or your attention fades, note the distraction as soon as you become aware of it, and then without blame or judgment simply refresh your mindful presence and return your attention to whatever you choose to attend to.
If you are like most people you have dozens, if not hundreds, of interactions with people in an average day. One powerful strategy for practicing mindfulness is to set the intention to engage in a significant number of daily interactions as opportunities to practice “mindful dialogue.” This involves being vividly mindful of what you see, hear or sense from the people you are talking with, while simultaneously being mindful of the flow of your own inner personal experiences as you are engaged in that dialogue.
Your practice of mindfulness can take two basic forms:
- One is the practice of mindful presence in the midst of the ordinary activities of your daily life.
- The second way to practice mindfulness is more as a quiet meditation practice. In this mode, you simply sit quietly, focus your mindfulness on the flow of your breath and mindfully notice the flow of experiences as they come and go. Be mindful of how the waves of the breath come and flow. Let this be your resting place and anchor of awareness. Mindfully notice how external perceptions come and flow from the world around you. Mindfully attend to how the sensations in your body come and flow. As thoughts or mental images arise, be mindful of how they too arise and pass. As emotions come to your awareness, be mindful of them as arising and passing in the clear space of your mindful presence. As desires, intentions or other mind-states arise, be mindful of how these similarly come and flow. With mindful clear presence, embrace the flow of your experience, with great curiosity, openness and compassion. Remain in this stream of experience for five, 10, 20 or 30 minutes at a time, and allow yourself to awaken ever more fully to the wisdom of your true nature, complexity and dimensionality.
Once you understand how to practice the discipline of mindful presence you can never say, “I don’t have time to meditate,” because mindfulness can be activated in virtually every situation and activity of your complex and busy life. This means that every activity and encounter offers you the opportunity to develop and strengthen your mind fitness.
As you cultivate this quality of mindful presence, you’ll begin to realize that you are part of a vast community of people in all walks of life and arenas of work who are engaged in this practice. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the clinical and performance enhancing benefits of the mind fitness practice of mindfulness.
Over the past 20 years, the discipline of mindfulness meditation has become an integral element in the success path of leaders from many disciplines. In our own work, we’ve taught mindfulness as a core success strategy to thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations around the globe. In our work with the largest, most successful division of Hewlett-Packard, mindfulness was one of the core values held by senior leaders as a key to their success.
During the once secret “Ultimate Warrior Training Program” (aka Jedi Warrior) that we co-designed and led for the U.S. Army Green Berets, we guided two A-Teams of Special Forces troops on an intensive 30-day silent mindfulness retreat called “The Encampment,” which equipped them with skills to succeed on a series of missions that no other teams had ever succeeded in before. One of our teams was later selected as the most outstanding team in the NATO games. This program was described by leaders at West Point Military Academy as “the most exquisite orchestration of human technology we have ever seen.”
At Google, we teach a course called “The Meditation and Mindfulness Laboratory” for leaders and software engineers seeking to de-bug and reengineer their own personal operating systems. At M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center and dozens of other leading medical centers and medical schools, we’ve also taught mindfulness disciplines to hundreds of physicians, nurses, faculty and administrators, and many of them have fully integrated these methods into their daily lives and work. Surgeons who train in mindfulness make fewer mistakes and have better surgical outcomes. In medicine, mindfulness also offers relief from a myriad of stress-related maladies and speeds recovery time.
The practice of mindful presence has also been a vital success strategy in our mentoring of numerous world class and Olympic gold medal-winning athletes who have stretched the envelope of success to new proportions. Just imagine what will be possible for you as you develop greater mindful presence and mind fitness in your own life.