Mindfulness practice helps us clear up the cluttered thoughts that leave us feeling adrift and unable to plant our feet firmly beneath us. One misconception about mindfulness is that we must somehow learn to focus perfectly on the breath—no distractions. However, our minds are designed to think and thus incapable of being devoid of thoughts and observations. Therefore, mindfulness consists of learning to recognize when we’ve become distracted and then redirecting our focus to the present. As we develop the ability to shift our focus, we create pauses in the mental chatter. In time and with practice, these pauses grow longer, and more frequent, offering the mind a much-needed break from its busy thinking.
In those moments of pause, rather than regretting what was or fearing what might be, we learn to take stock of what is. By engaging in exercises that refocus the mind to the present moment—where we have some control—we become better able to differentiate between facts and “stories.” Learning to separate what is from what is not in our control reduces fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. We also know to observe thoughts and body sensations during mindfulness practice without judging them as good or bad. Non-judgement of our thoughts and feelings translates into awareness and self-acceptance, which softens self-criticism, encourages inner peace, and enhances tolerance.