noun: mindfulness
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

I’m very new to this whole mindfulness thing. I have tried meditation casually and sporadically over the last few years – basically just trying to sit and not think, which made my mind race even more. The more I learn about mindfulness the more I realize it is not necessarily trying to empty your mind of thought, but rather to be aware of your thoughts. To be aware of your feelings, the sounds around you, the smells, … everything. To be aware but also to let it go, in a way. The idea, I think, is to be aware of the here and now but not to dwell on it. The Greater Good says “Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”
Whenever I had tried meditation I thought the intention was to clear my mind and when I couldn’t do that I felt I must have been doing something wrong – I couldn’t even sit and do nothing! At the time I didn’t know how I could benefit from mindfulness meditation, but from everything I was reading it seemed as if it would be a good way to slow down and reduce my feeling of being overwhelmed.

I’ve always felt that if I’m sitting and not “doing” something then I’m not being productive – and I must be productive at all times! That’s a good work ethic, right? (or a quick route to burnout). In contrast, I have always cherished the times I was able to sit quietly by myself for hours reading a book or knitting. However, at some point it felt as if that leisure time was not acceptable – every minute of my time must some how contribute to my career or translate into income. Knitting seemed way too slow, but I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe there could be a combination of meditation and knitting – sitting quietly and doing something simple enough that it doesn’t require deep thought but complex enough to keep the mind engaged in the present moment.

During my masters studies for art therapy I decided to write my thesis about the therapeutic aspects of fiberart. I had been knitting and using fibers techniques in my artwork for a few years and wanted to explore the benefits in research. For part of my research I kept a journal of my mood on daily basis and how it charged during and after knitting. I wasn’t surprised the results showed that knitting made me feel calm, relaxed, and happy – I already knew it did. But somehow having this data organized and recorded as part of my thesis research made it acceptable to spend time doing things that were relaxing.

Recently, I have been taking my meditation practice a little more seriously. I use an app on my phone called Insight Timer to listen to recorded meditations or to use the timer to focus my mind. Over time the practice has become more enjoyable. I feel clearer and better able to make decisions – my mind isn’t thinking of a thousand things that need to get done. I’ve also been knitting a lot more lately, so maybe this clarity is due to both the meditation and knitting.

I’m realizing more and more that in order to be able to perform at my best in any situation, I must take care of myself first. Reducing stress by knitting or sitting quietly by myself are not selfish pursuits but important activities for my health and overall well-being. And by taking care of myself I’m better able to take care of my family and clients. So, I am working on it everyday and trying to be mindful and present – trying to be aware of the here and now.