Pete says: I have had the pleasure of knowing Kate for 35 years. We attended the same high school and graced the same backstage area. After graduation we went our separate ways and Kate ended up in Minneapolis, where she dedicates her life to helping people feel better and get the most out of their lives. I found her book to be the perfect jumpstarter for me to finally dip my toes into the practice of mindfulness and meditation. It spoke to me, like the neophyte that I am, in plain talk and without judgement. You don’t need to hear it from me, though. Kate can tell you herself.
Mindfulness. The word is everywhere, almost to the point of becoming a cliche.
Is it just another buzzword? A pointless trend? Hippy dippy weirdness? What is it? Why, exactly, is there so much fuss?
I have the inside scoop on what the big deal is with mindfulness, what it is, and why you might want to care.
Here is really all you need to know: Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment. It is a way of quieting your mind by bringing your full attention to the experience you are having at this time, this thing you are doing right now, the sensory experiences you are having at this moment.
You’ll notice that nowhere does it say anything about shaving your head, becoming a vegetarian, or bathing in the River Ganges. You will notice a lack of the words “mantra”, “buddha”, and “karma”.
I found that being more present as I worked with clients produced an entirely different experience – and a very beneficial one – for both myself and my client. I wanted to share that ability with my students. I started teaching mindfulness as an extension of my classes on integrative healthcare.
It is from this foundation of “applied mindfulness” that I began to teach classes in developing mindfulness as a lifestyle. I taught it to high school athletes, project managers, and health care professionals, and I taught it in a way that was about integrating it into what they were already doing.
Most people equate mindfulness and meditation, and, although they are linked, and they support each other, they are not exactly the same thing. Meditation is an activity, a time set aside for putting your attention on something specific. That may be your breathing, or it may be your relationship with your god. It may be a guided visualization, or it may be something you visualize on your own. It can involve thinking or not thinking.
Mindfulness is a state that is often present during meditation, depending on the type of meditation that you are doing, and meditation can enhance your ability to be more mindful. When I teach mindfulness, I teach small, specific meditation techniques as part of the process because they are so useful in helping to teach us how to be in the moment.
I have seen people balk at the idea of cultivating a mindful state because they believe that it will kill all sense of spontaneity. They seem to think that mindfulness drains the wonder from the world, and that the sense of contentment creates dullness.
Mindful spontaneity is like playing double-dutch jump rope. You can jump into the game whenever you want, and improvise whatever comes to mind, but you have to surrender to the rhythm of the rope. All your attention has to be on the speed and height of that rope, internalizing it, accepting it, and then entering it. When you are mindful, you tune into the rhythms of yourself and of the world. From that place you can enter into it wherever you’d like, improvising, innovating, and playing with it like a jazz musician.
A dish of ice cream that is purchased and consumed with mindful consideration, is a treat that can be enjoyed from beginning to end, tasting wonderful and delicious. That same ice cream that is consumed without that attentiveness becomes a too-much, too-sweet, guilt-laden weight on the mind. Both approaches end up with ice cream, but the moment of mindfulness makes that decision, and the experience, an enjoyable one.
Learning how to be present has surprisingly lovely rewards and what those turn out to be for each one of us is often a surprise. You might find yourself living in a more contented state, experiencing less anxiety, discovering better performance at arts, crafts, and athletic pursuits. The changes are very personal and varied.
Why would you want to learn how to be mindful? You want to experience less stress, and rebound from difficult situations more easily, you are tired of suffering from anxiety and to worry less. Maybe you’d just like less drama.
And most of all, maybe you want to taste the true richness of the life you have right here in front of you, learning to quiet your mind and live in the present is the way to make that happen.
Kate Sciandra is an iconoclastic and purely authentic voice in the realm of paying attention to living. Her background in everything from herbal medicine to theatrical lighting design is all fodder for her unique way of making connections between unexpected things in a way that makes it all make more sense. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she lives in Minneapolis, MN where she teaches, speaks, practices, heals, and plays with abandon and with a passion for making the world better one person at a time.