What’s the difference and how to practice them in times of stress

One of the most powerful tools we can use to increase our capacity for growth and more evolved states of being is mindfulness/awareness. It’s a practice we can integrate into our everyday lives that helps us turn the mirror on ourselves, not in a judgmental or critical way, but rather in a way that helps us see ourselves as ourselves so that we can discover which behaviors, patterns of thought, and ways of being serve us and which don’t. When we have mindfulness and awareness as a practice, we begin to show up in a more authentic and integrated way. And most importantly, we can manage our stress more effectively, especially in these disruptive times.

Mindfulness and awareness are not quite the same thing, but put together they are one practice. Mindfulness is our ability to hold our minds attention to an object. In meditation, we hold our mind’s attention to the breath, when our mind wanders, we simply bring it back to the breath. When we do the dishes or are in our everyday lives, mindfulness is our capacity to hold our mind’s attention to what we’re doing. It can be a challenging practice because the tendency, even the nature, of the mind is to wander and get distracted. Especially in this day and age when there is so much to be distracted with. 

Awareness is our ability to know when our mind has wandered. It’s like expanding our mind’s reach so we can see more of ourselves. It’s different from self-consciousness in that we are not judging ourselves or dissociating; it feels softer and more integrated. Awareness is what allows us to reflect at the end of the day-how did I do? Were there times when I slipped and said something I wish I hadn’t? How can I show up in a way that feels better? 

In Buddhism, mindfulness/awareness is a practice which helps us dismantle the ego and see through the illusory self, created by thoughts and a sense of separateness, and gradually release into a greater sense of self that is interconnected with the larger picture. We use the practice of meditation to develop and strengthen the “muscle” of mindfulness and awareness so that we may apply it to the whole picture of our lives. One does not need to be religious to practice this skill but we should be aware that the origins of mindfulness are not intended to solidify our ego, but rather an ancient practice of self-actualization. 

Try This 
Try this 5 minute practice at home or in the office. Find a quiet place free from distraction. Close the eyes. If you’re in a chair feel the feet firmly planted on the ground and if you’re sitting on a cushion feel your sitting bones firmly on the earth. Take a deep breath and with the exhale relax your shoulders, jaw, and the muscles in your face. 
Mindfulness Harness your minds’ attention to the breath in the body. Do a scan of your body beginning at your feet and ending at the head. Briefly visit each part of yourself. Feel how you feel and just notice any discomfort either physical or emotional. Just be with what is, don’t try to change anything. When your mind wanders, simply bring the mind’s attention back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale. 
Awareness Once you feel grounded in the body and the breath, expand your minds’ attention to the environment around you. What do you hear, smell, feel as sensation? Rather than having your sense perceptions take you away from the present moment, use them to anchor you into the present. Have a larger sense of your being, the whole picture of how you are in your life. Don’t get into the storyline, just be with what is. Open your eyes and allow yourself a minute or so to just BE. 
As you go throughout your day, replace mindfulness of the breath with a joining of your mind with activity. For example I feel my fingers on the keyboard as I’m typing this and it keeps me anchored into what I’m doing. Join this with a larger sense of beingness, what’s going on around me? How would I like to respond? So that we carry both the presence of being in the here and now and an availability and responsiveness to what’s happening around us. 

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