What Does Mindfulness Feel Like?
I guess it’s a little like parasailing, only inside your head
I find a lot of people unfamiliar with mindfulness asking me questions like — Will mindfulness help me solve my problems? What does it actually do for me? Why should I do it?
I’ve struggled with these questions for as long as I can remember. I know very well how much mindfulness has helped me in my own life. It’s guided me through anxiety, heartbreak, my career, among many other trials and tribulations I’ve endured. But to explain all that to others? I’m often at a loss for words.
It’s not something that can be easily illuminated, if at all, which is why I’ve always felt that understanding mindfulness is best done as an experiment to simply find out for yourself.
But alas, not everyone is brave enough to dive into the unknown without a rock-solid heading. Since I can relate, I’ll try my best to explain mindfulness rather than to harp on how much better it would be to experience it.
Let’s try a metaphor, since stories are always more effective (and fun) than simply telling you how it is.
Close Your Eyes
Imagine you’ve been whisked away to the Caribbean, islands and crystal clear waters as far as your eyes can see.
You’re on a boat of medium size, larger than a speed boat but smaller than a yacht, with a newly married couple and a guide, who probably would have jumped overboard by now if he wasn’t being paid such a hefty sum.
Don’t worry about how you’ve found yourself in this situation. Just focus on being there.
The married two are arguing and it’s escalating rather quickly. The wife suspects the husband has found himself a new lover in the resort’s cleaning lady. The husband feels like she’s projecting, having taken a lover of her own in the young, burly resort lobby attendant.
Needless to say, neither is very happy nor is the argument settling anytime soon.
There you are with the guide — two lost souls trapped on a boat with an arguing married couple, unable to enjoy the time out at sea. Every moment spent is lost in the argument. Harsh words bickering back and forth so violently you can barely think, let alone feel much of anything.
You do, however, find yourself feeling tense.
It’s as if the feud has somehow sent the couple’s emotions traveling through the air as a conduit for your own body to receive. You feel heated. Anxious. The only “clear” thoughts you can muster are of jumping off the boat yourself, which, being honest, doesn’t seem like a terrible idea for the time being.
But then, in a brief moment of clarity, an idea strikes.
You glance over at the guide, look over your shoulder, and point upward with your thumb as if motioning you’d like to be sent up into the sky.
He looks at you and without a moment’s hesitation replies, “I’m surprised it took you this long to ask.”
Above the Clouds
You finally remember that the boat you’re on is a boat meant for parasailing. You had been so engulfed in the married couple’s quarrel that you forgot the point of the venture altogether.
The guide checks and double-checks your gear, giving you a comforting pat on the chest, then says, “you’re good to go,” and gives you a gentle nudge off the boat as you drift slowly up the line and into the air.
As you ascend, you can still hear the arguing couple, but the sound of it all shrinks from obtrusive to faint to barely noticeable, until you can’t hear any of it all.
While you were on the boat, it was hard to focus on anything. You could barely enjoy life with the never-ending bickering among the man and wife. It was miserable — dreadful, even — and you wished for nothing more than to silence the chatter.
But now, well over a hundred feet up and away in the sky, you see things as they are.
Beautiful. Absolutely fucking beautiful.
It feels as though this is the first time in a long while, perhaps ever, that you see things so clearly. You’re in the middle of a tropical paradise. The sun is warm against your half-naked skin. The wind feels gentle as it breezes around you.
You look down and can barely discern the details of the humans you left on the boat below.
For certain, you can’t hear them, as only the sounds of the wind, water, and the roaring of the boat can be heard. You can tell they’re still arguing though, as you can see the motions of their hands waving about haphazardly.
But that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. You’ve taken quite a large step back and have seen the bigger picture. Your thoughts, feelings, and frustration are but a small twinkle in the grander scheme of things.
Now that you’ve stepped out of the madness that your mind has been focusing on, you see the truth…
The world is beautiful, if only you can learn to step outside of the chaos for a little while.
Coming Back to Earth
After taking in all the sights, sounds and emotions of flying high above the water, you’re reluctantly reeled back in towards the boat.
Upon returning, however, your lens of the world has been forever altered — upgraded, if you will.
Yes, to no-one’s surprise, the married couple is still arguing, but you notice that it doesn’t affect you as strongly. Instead of getting swept up in the chaos of it all, you choose not to be bothered by it — letting it proceed as nothing more than a mild inconvenience.
Having taken a step back and viewing the bigger picture, you’ve realized that there’s a lot more going on than what’s at the forefront of your human mind. And with a little bit of focus, you can see the beauty around you, even in the midst of the squabbling husband and wife.
This, my friend, is how I think of mindfulness. With the proper technique and training, mindfulness helps you take a step back to view your thoughts from a third-person perspective. It pulls your attention away from what your mind thinks is most important and reveals to you the endless sea of thoughts always flowing through your head.
With this knowledge, you can eventually learn to pick and choose which thoughts you wish to entertain, to interact with, and even which to associate with.
You don’t have to be a slave to your thoughts — you can train yourself to be in full control.
If you’ve never practiced mindfulness before, it truly is training for the mind. You use mindfulness as a tool to sharpen your mind to use how you see fit instead of letting it wander about aimlessly, which is when it tends to focus on the latest fire or other troublesome thoughts.
Most people live their entire lives reacting to stimuli and following every gut reaction they have. They never stop to practice mindfulness and gain the entirely new perspective that it offers — to view things as they really are.
While this alone might not solve all of your problems for you, it will settle your focus and grant you the clarity to help yourself and respond with smarter, more well-thought action.
It’s much easier to see the world from a parasailer’s view than to be on the boat with an endlessly bickering married couple…and a guide who would want nothing more than to throw himself overboard.