|I first learned about Mindfulness from Sam Harris's must-read book Waking Up.|
A close friend Eric, also is a proponent of this technique, which he calls Buddhism. Mindfulness uses many of the teachings of the Buddha without the chanting, karma and reincarnation stuff.
I don't use all the techniques of Mindfulness, but I will outline some of what I find useful.
The key to happiness is focusing on the present. That's worth repeating with an acronym TION.
There (T) Is (I) Only (O) Now (N).
Every time you see a word that ends in the suffix -tion, let it remind you to live in the present because that's where life happens.
There are many things that happened to you in the past that no longer exist except for a memory in your brain. This event may have really happened but it no longer exists. It can be real in your mind.
As an example, I was walking through Penn Station in New York City, when someone bumped into me pretty hard. My first reaction was anger, as I cursed the person under my breath. Prior to learning Mindfulness, I would have focused on this person. Who was he? Why did he do it? How can I get back at him? For hours, I would tell everyone I knew what this guy did to me. It would make me angry and my anger would be against others who didn't bump into me.
But Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present. So, right away I thought, that the event is over and focused on my present situation which was walking through Penn Station. The change of focus is amazing. The anger only stays while you focus on the past.
Are you worried about the future? If you are then you're not rooted in the present. Life is lived in the present and not in the past or future. I'm not saying don't prepare. I'm saying just don't get stuck worrying about a future. Take action in the present to prevent the future you're worrying about.
Thoughts come into and out of our consciousness without any effort. Our brains are always thinking. Some people call this "monkey mind." We have little control over what thoughts arise but we can filter what comes in.
If you're watching the news, they will broadcast all sorts of bad shit that they want you to worry about. You could turn this off and reduce some of the negativity in your life. If a negative thought comes into your mind you will probably hitch a ride to it. Your mind can get stuck in a loop worrying about some future event or reminiscing about a past where someone wronged you. In either case, you're not living in the present.
I was at a party the other day and this guy was going on and on about some past event. I could see the veins in his neck bulging as he complained about the bad things in his life. This is not a way to make friends as few people like complainers. It's okay to complain or vent once in awhile, but try to be aware of it.
So Mindfulness can reduce stress. I believe that if you had a choice between eating bad food and being stressed by your own mind, that the stress is worse for you. Mindfulness is a simple technique to reduce this stress.
So the technique is to sit quietly to thoughts arising but don't jump on the train, just watch it until it disappears. You want to become an observer of the thought and not get stuck in it. Like you're watching a movie that you don't have to react to. Say you get a negative thought. Pick your favorite one. Now let it into your conscious and see it as a thought arising, without hitching a ride on it and letting you fill yourself with anger. If you don't become a part of the thought, it can't drag you into a negativity loop.
It Could Have Been Worse
Another technique I learned is to take the situation you're in when bad and speculate how it could have been even worse.
Your boss is angry at you but you still have a job. No one made the coffee but you get free coffee at work. The bathroom is messy but some people don't have flush toilets, etc.
This is another technique of Mindfulness. Just accept your state. If you're nervous about something, then just accept the nervousness, don't fight it. If you have a pain, don't get angry about it, just feel it as a message your brain is giving you and the pain will lessen.
Catch Your Thoughts
Instead of letting your mind choose what to focus on, focus on where a thought is coming from. Try to think about nothing.
Sit comfortably in a chair, but keep your back off of the back of the chair. Place your hands in your lap. Starting at the top of your head start relaxing your body parts one at a time. Let go of stress and tension by bringing in calmness, love, and peace. Then proceed to your forehead, left eye, right eye, third eye, ears, mouth, teeth, muscles of your face, chin, neck, shoulder, etc. all the way down to the bottom of your feet.
There is a lot to meditation but the basic principle is pretty simple, focus on your breath. Start with one to two minutes and try to get it to 20 minutes. Use a timer to tell you when your meditation session is done. The goal of mediation is to avoid thinking which is much harder than it sounds.
Focus on your breath. Each time you breathe out count it. Count up to ten breaths and then back down to one and repeat. There are many variations of this. My friend Eric would lead daily sessions for 10 minutes. I was always amazed at how good I felt afterward.
If your monkey mind takes over and you stop focusing on your breath, then just gently go back to the breath, with calmness. This is usually harder than you think. But keep it up as this simple technique is well worth it.
Look for guided meditations on the internet to help learn to meditate.
It's hard to believe that these type of simple techniques can really make a drastic difference in your happiness, but it can. Give it a few tries. You won't be sorry. You'll be present and much happier.