I recently found myself experimenting with mindfulness in an odd place – a live music concert. When I speak with students and explain the concept of “being present,” I notice that many people see it as another “should”, right under floss and call home more often, even if they truly believe it can decrease stress and improve health. Learning that something is good for us can sometimes make us reject it faster than a 7-year old can hide broccoli under a napkin.
As I listened to Eddie Vedder belt out an acoustic set, I closed my eyes and opened my ears for the first time all night. I turned my attention completely to the sound of the guitar, the power of his voice, and the way the song “Just Breathe” melted my entire being. When thoughts crept into my head, I noticed them and let them go, turned my entire attention to the way the music made me feel, and truly savored every sound as if I were eating a rich chocolate cake. What a difference!
Yes, mindfulness is the art of being in the present moment. But deep down, mindfulness is the art of enjoying your life, the art of savoring the moment. Why do we do things we enjoy, like going to a concert or watching a sunset? I believe we do them because we like the way they make us feel.
Yet when we take that walk on the beach or spend time with a loved one, many times we get so caught up in thoughts that we don’t take the time to stop and smell the moment. If we don’t even notice how the sun feels on our face, or how spending time connected to a loved one makes us feel, how can we savor the feeling?
A regular sitting meditation is a fantastic practice, but for many it can quickly turn into another way to judge themselves and hold themselves up to unattainable standards like “I’m not practicing enough”, or “I’m not calm enough, focused enough, or meditating correctly.” Yes, even meditation can become food for our inner critics. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” – Milton, Paradise Lost
You don’t have to look at practicing mindfulness as a “should” in your life. Look at mindfulness as the art of enjoying your life. Mindfulness is about tasting your food, listening to the birds, and enjoying how the hot water feels on your skin during a well-deserved long shower. The more you practice savoring the moment, the more you will start to realize that those standards, self-criticisms, and spinning thoughts are just noise that you have the power to turn down while you enjoy more moments.
In the end, mindfulness is about learning to get out of your head, out of thinking, worry and planning, and into savoring the moments that make up your life. It’s about truly enjoying everything that life has to offer, from the simplicity of chocolate, to the beauty of nature.
Oh, and mindfulness also relieves stress and improves your overall health. But try not to let that bother you too much.
Try it now! Listen to the live performance that inspired this post, and while you are listening, focus your attention only on the sounds, and how the music makes you feel. The song is perfectly titled Just Breathe: Eddie Vedder.
Lauren Firestein is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use to deal with any mental challenge and rock the bar exam.