Cultivating Emotional Balance with Mindfulness




If you pay attention at every moment, you form a new relationship to time.
In some magical way, by slowing down, you become more efficient, productive,
and energetic, focusing without distraction directly on the task in front of you.
Not only do you become immersed in the moment, you become that moment.

Michael Ray, School of Business, Stanford University

By mindfulness, I mean the internal action of paying attention on purpose. It is an invisible act any of us can do. When we notice something, in ourselves or outside, and simultaneously we’re aware that we are noticing, we are the actor and the witness.

Adding mindfulness back into one’s daily experience seems to help every person who does it. It’s a tool that doesn’t cost anything or take time.

Mindfulness and choosing our responses
In a medical check-up, the doctor will use a tendon hammer to tap your knee to make sure that your neurological connections are firing correctly. When they do, the patellar reflex makes your knee and calf jump; a sign of proper functioning. Have you noticed that something can trigger an emotional reaction, and before you know it, you’re reacting automatically and expressing yourself with an emotional ‘knee-jerk reaction’? The question is, does that automatic emotional response, that improvised behavior, get you what you want? Probably not.

Purposeful attention gives you the possibility of making conscious choices. For example, what you think about. This is essential because what you think directly and immediately influences how you feel. This has been known for a very long time.

One’s own thought is one’s world.
What a person thinks is what he becomes –
That is the eternal mystery.

~ The Upanishads (800-600 BC).

Our thoughts and feelings become behavior. The more you consciously choose how to respond, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy and create the results you intend.

Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness

  • Inner nourishment: Deepened awareness and attention feed the heart, mind and soul.
  • Calmness and control: Not feeling in touch with ourselves is part of what creates a kind of background anxiety. If we’re not really present for our lives, that creates stress, because how can we be sure that what we’re doing is the best? Perhaps, if things work out, it’s more by accident than design. "Who is choosing things if I’m not fully here?  Who is running this show? Who is making the decisions?"
  • Decreasing reactivity: Putting intentional attention into the minutes of our lives breaks the chain of automatic reactiveness.
  • Maximally leveraging time: Paying attention on purpose is an energy-efficient way of living and working. You can choose what you want, because you’re observing what is going on in you and how you respond. Instead of looking back with regret and wondering why you did what you did, you save time, energy, and improve your life by ongoing self-observation.
  • Self-care: When we are present, we can have greater awareness of how we treat ourselves.
  • Increased vitality and focus: Bringing awareness to routine tasks does away with the auto-pilot mode. We feel calmer, more satisfied, perhaps stronger, more youthful and renewed.

It can be pleasurable to get thoroughly absorbed in a great movie. You know how, after it’s over and you walk outside, it’s hard to believe two hours have passed, that you’re in this physical world and no longer gripped by the story you just watched? The truth is, without attention, we could live all of our time getting lost in the events and storyline of our days.

Do you have days when you’re over-committed, and you feel overwhelmed by so much to do? If you want a way to return to feeling solid and centered in yourself, being mindful has proven to increase calmness.

Many people wish they could quiet inner chatter. When we pay attention to what is in front of us, we replace that internal noise with what is happening in that moment. We can “be here now” whether having a conversation, leaning against a fence, noticing the flowers, sitting in a business meeting, being with a lover, or eating a meal. We’re learning to add attention back into the moment and ‘be there’.

You can jog your mind back to intentional awareness by doing simple and odd attention-grabbing things:

  • Wear your watch on the opposite wrist.
  • Write little ‘pay attention’ reminder notes, and stash them in different places
  • Turn a framed picture upside down.
  • Set a timer for once an hour to support you in paying attention on purpose.
  • Remember to go slower once an hour, even if just for one minute.
  • Tune into your breathing. Just notice your breath.
  • Begin associating daily movements with paying attention on purpose. For example, consciously turn a light switch on or off.
  • See how long you can maintain attention while washing your hands or face.

These tricks need to be changed after a while once they’ve become habit.

"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention is the very
root of judgment, character, and will. No one is really in control
of themselves if they do not have this. An education which would
improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.
– William James