How to Be Mindful

Learn the four fundamental principles of mindfulness practice and how meditation plays a role. Try a 10-minute guided audio meditation with Nancy Waring, director of our Mindfulness Studies master's degree and certificate programs.

Nancy Waring, professor and director of Lesley’s Mindfulness Studies graduate programs, explains how this 2600-year-old practice can help toward the creation of greater harmony.

“Mindfulness is a form of intelligence that promotes well-being. It’s a way of being that can optimize happiness and reduce suffering in our lives. It is basically a prescription that was set forth by Siddhartha Gautama, now known as Buddha. The Buddha is often referred to as a physician, and his teachings are often referred to as medicine,” she explains.

Among the fundamental principles of mindfulness are being present to each moment, practicing compassion for ourselves and others, recognizing our interdependence, and gratitude. Meditating helps us develop these ways of being through forms of practice that all have to do with present moment awareness.

1. Being in the Present Moment

We humans tend to dwell in the past or tell ourselves stories about the future. These habits of mind often lead to unhappiness and anxiety. Our dissatisfaction also arises from trying to resist naturally occurring change.

Mindfulness practice addresses this dissatisfaction. "We train our minds to be increasingly aware of the present moment, just as it is unfolding, without trying to make it different and without judging whatever is happening,” Nancy says.

Through meditation practice, we learn to notice our thoughts, emotions, and what’s happening in our bodies. It’s not about pushing away unpleasant thoughts or emotions. It's about acknowledging them without dwelling on them or telling ourselves stories about them.

2. Practicing Compassion for Yourself and Others

Developing self-compassion is a necessary step toward developing compassion for other people. If we acknowledge that our self-judging thoughts are not productive, they’ll soften over time, Nancy explains. "So will our judgmental thoughts about others," she says.

The more we practice kindness toward others and ourselves, the more compassion will arise in us naturally. “We remember that everyone wants to be happy and everyone experiences suffering just like we do,” says Nancy, who has noticed her own attitudes shift over time. “I no longer get upset when I’m driving and someone cuts me off. I think, ‘Well, maybe that person is angry—which is a form of suffering—or has somewhere urgent to go.’”

mindfulness yoga stretch
Try a 10-minute guided audio meditation.

In mindfulness practice, we train our minds through meditation. Use this guided meditation to practice concentrating on the present moment.

3. Recognizing Our Interdependence

Mindfulness is all about relationships. So, according to the teachings, whatever we say and do is best said or done in the spirit of building connections, and not causing disconnections.

This includes being skillful in the face of differences of opinion. It’s all about listening and trying on another person’s perspective. "We need to regulate ourselves so we can hear and respond, rather than react," says Nancy. "What if I said to myself, ‘When my relative says something provocative, I won’t react with a zinger or fall into my usual habit of getting angry or feeling injured?'"

But this doesn’t mean we need to be doormats. “If we disagree and feel we must take a stance, we should own it as our own truth, rather than being oppositional toward the other person,” she says.

4. Gratitude

Mindfulness is about regularly acknowledging the good in our lives, and showing appreciation toward others who have helped us. But sometimes we forget to do this, even on Thanksgiving, a holiday built on the idea of gratitude.

In some families, it’s a tradition to have each person at the table say something that they are grateful for. This dose of medicine may be just what we all need.

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