Mindfulness takes practice like everything else. Most people conduct their daily activities without consciously 'attending' to many physical or mental processes. It's not laziness, it's just that you've practiced it more and it's just easier. You drive a car without thinking of shifting the gears. You brush your teeth, comb your hair, eat your food, walk to the house and do daily chores all automatically.
When you attend to the pressure of your foot against the floor or to the sound of a whistle in the distance, you are consciously aware and focused on it. You can also be mindful of the taste in your mouth, an odor in the air or even an inner thought process. If you focus your attention to a spot on the wall, you can even direct your conscious awareness to various points around that spot without shifting the focal point of your gaze (see "Exercise -- Improving Your Peripheral Vision Awareness"). When listening to an orchestra, you can attend to the entire musical piece or you can 'flash' your conscious awareness to pick out and separate each musical instrument for individual attention (see "Exercise -- A Multiple Hearing Acuity").
In the beginning when a blind man is learning to read braille, his conscious awareness is intently focused on interpreting with his fingertips the dot-like bumps into an intelligible language. After sufficiently learning braille, the process becomes 'automatic' and it no longer has to be consciously attended to. A 'shift' from the consciously attentive area of the brain to other areas of the brain is made, and the newly learned activity is fully integrated as a mastered language experience.
Learning the Morse code or sign language or tap dancing or speed reading or bicycle riding -- all take conscious attention in the beginning. Later these skills simply become 'automatic,' and a 'knowingness' that cannot be fully explained is achieved. Through a more thorough hemispheric integration, you're able to consciously attend to a more varied environment which in turn stimulates and helps your brain grow.
When you consciously attend to a certain activity, an increased blood flow is conducted into the brain area governing that activity. An increase in blood flow brings about more oxygen to that brain area, and consequent electrical activity brings about neuronal growth. Your conscious awareness is not something tangible, but you know when you're using it, don't you? It's like the 4th dimensional trigger of the mind which can activate the brain cells into use.
Sometimes your conscious awareness can become so completely absorbed in an activity that other sensory input goes unnoticed (review "Exercise -- Closing Off One of Your Senses"). In this way, an injury to a football player can go unnoticed by him until after the game, or a child watching TV can fail to 'hear' a parent's voice. At certain times, concentrating on a dripping water faucet can be irritating, and at other times it can go unnoticed. Learning how to open up your conscious awareness or to close it voluntarily simply takes practice like everything else.
There is a 'linger effect' of several seconds that takes place in the human brain when sensory input can be acknowledged or not acknowledged. For instance, when you speak to someone who is concentrating on a certain activity and doesn't appear to have heard you, nudge them within 4 seconds and ask them if they heard you. Usually they'll say, "Yes, I heard you" and they'll be able to remember what you said. If you wait much longer and ask them whether they heard you, they'll usually say, "No." The lag time for recall was too long. Taking advantage of this lag time of recall and quickly flashing your conscious awareness to various tasks can enable you to perform simultaneous mental functions. When certain skills are learned thoroughly enough and the shift to other areas of the brain is made, this split second flashing of your conscious attention is not as necessary.
Like your body's muscles, your mind must be exercised and used more if it is expected to grow. Improving your mindfulness allows you to savor each stage of your development far better than you normally would in a non-mindful state. As an exercise in expanding your conscious awareness, practice flashing it quickly from distant sounds TO the touch of your clothes against your skin TO the salivary taste in your mouth TO your breathing in and out TO your seeing with your peripheral vision TO the odors in the air TO a visualization of a giant number 3. Now flash your conscious awareness to the subtler sensory input you are receiving, the external temperature, the barometric pressure on your skin and nostrils, the beating of your heart, faint odors and sounds, the specific emotion you are feeling, etc. Finally, open yourself up to the total awareness picture and drink it all in simultaneously. Do this exercise frequently during the day, jumping from one sensory stimulus to another as rapidly as you can, but get more conscious about your day.
Can you remember what you were thinking about when you awoke this morning or when you retired the night before? At the end of your day, review all the events that happened to you during the preceding 12 hours and up to your present point. If there are gaps in your memory, you can improve your performance by making end-of-the-hour reviews throughout the day on what you did during each hour. With practice this should take only seconds to accomplish. Being more mindful about a vacation or other important events in the future will give you a better recall about those experiences later. For additional practice, ask yourself throughout a normal day why you are doing what you are doing. Are you operating "on automatic" or do you think about actions before you do them? Remember - frequent forgetfulness and inattention go hand in hand.
Being mindful when you are lustful, fearful, angry or pleasure oriented tends to give the emotion a transformed feeling! Ask yourself questions about the emotion you are experiencing to gain a total awareness of it. When you embrace one of these basic emotions with your conscious awareness, you will find it becomes better understood and actually changes itself into one of the more peaceful emotions.
Another drill in getting more conscious is to estimate what the exact time is throughout the day before looking at your watch. Then confirm the real time by looking at your watch. There is a clock in your head that can eventually allow you to do this very well.
As an additional drill, pretend that thieves are everywhere and that you must be consciously aware of all your belongings & personal effects and their positions in your house and on your person. This will keep you on your toes for the day.
As a drill in being more mindful, constantly switch your handedness throughout your day. Practice smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting and feeling with conscious discernment. The next 7 things you do, ask yourself why you are doing them that way and not some other way. The more you perform these and other drills of your own invention, the better able you are to control your actions and remember those actions afterwards.
As a final exercise, be totally mindful of every activity you perform throughout your next normal day. Keeping yourself totally attentive is a matter of noticing exactly what you are doing at the exact moment that you are doing it. By witnessing intently every action you make -- standing, stretching, sitting -- you become mindful of yourself without purposefully changing your actions or placing judgmental values on what you are doing. By this total mindfulness of the moment, your development of your total personal awareness is definitely increased. By observing such awareness, you can increase your efficiency and decrease certain energy wastes.
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