Have you ever heard the saying “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present?” Let’s give credit where it is due. That quote belongs to Bill Keane, the creator of the old cartoon Family Circus. Mother Teresa had a very similar one. She said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

I tend to be a worrier. I think a lot – at times, even when I don’t really want to, so for me, I need to work on bringing my focus and attention back to the moment quite often. That is why I love both of those expressions. It is also why I am very interested in a popular trend in mental health known as mindfulness.

Although there is nowhere near the volumes of research done on topics like mindfulness as compared to physical exercise, studies are starting to show results of some of the wonderful health benefits of mindfulness. According to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study, these benefits fall into four basic categories: self-awareness, body awareness, regulation of attention and regulation of emotion.

Most likely, you have experienced some experience similar to this one. You and your spouse had an argument just as you were getting ready to leave the house for work. You both said some things in the heat of the moment, obviously, you’re both still upset, but you have to shelf things because of time constraints. So, off to work you go.

Fifteen minutes later, you’re pulling into the parking lot at your office, completely without any recollection about your trip. All you remember is the continuous replaying of the argument you were just involved in and wrapped up in all the negative emotions, reliving them over and over again. You may even have fast-forwarded things in your imagination to round two which hasn’t even occurred yet, in which you let your partner know exactly how you feel and what they did to hurt your feelings.

The point isn’t about the argument, nor is it about the emotions or your partner. It is about the total loss of the time you traveled to your office. You were living fifteen minutes in both the past and the future, without a single moment in the present. When this routinely occurs, more than the commute to the office is lost. We lose the moments of true enjoyment that only come from being fully engaged when we play with our children. We miss out on the glorious beauty of the sunset because we are preoccupied or mentally rehearsing tomorrow morning’s meeting. The more often this happens, the more we miss out on the only real life moments that we have.

Mindfulness speaks to a way to recapture the ability to live in the present. It is a full and complete awareness of the current moment. It is an exercise in perceiving the here and now to the fullest, involving all our senses. What does this moment smell like, sound like, look like, feel like? It may sound very basic, but mindfulness is not something easily or simply achieved and attained.

It requires a lot of discipline and concentration. Many people work to achieve mindfulness through meditation in which they schedule specific times to quiet all the outside chatter so that it becomes possible to zero in on the present fully – focusing in on how our body is without any thought or attempt to alter it; focusing in on ourselves, getting in touch with how we are feeling and who we are and accepting ourselves without judgment, unconditionally.

Mindfulness also helps us learn to regulate our attention. When I first began practicing it, I could not still my mind and my racing thoughts. My mind did not know how to just let myself ‘be’ in the moment. All the thoughts of what I wanted to do or had to get done, all my concerns about things that happened, or ideas that popped into my head, completely ruled out and invaded my ability to focus on ‘nothingness’.

One of my personal favorites on this is Dr. Wayne Dyer – who refers to this as the gap between the thoughts. That image works really well for me. But I am proof that it does get easier to do the more you practice it. There still are times when I have a harder time quieting my future and past ‘voices’ inside my head; but when I do, there is a sense of peace and lightness to the present that is almost indescribable.

Once we learn how to regulate our attention better, it becomes easier to regulate our emotions better. I am talking about keeping feelings more balanced here, not dismissing them or minimizing them – but being able to keep them in a healthier, more manageable proportion so that we don’t worry as much about the future and don’t feel the need to rehash the past over in our heads again and again.

Mindfulness helps us to free ourselves up and give ourselves permission to experience things as they happen, when we are most aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it, thereby bringing more of what we have to offer, making us more efficient and productive. It is an invitation to wake up and transform your problems, fears, pain and stress so they don’t control you and destroy the quality of your life any longer.

But don’t take my word for it; try it yourself. I found a site that offers free downloadable mindful meditation clips,in MP3 format, ranging from about five minutes to 30 minutes in length at http://www.freemindfulness.org. Give yourself a month in which to make it a routine and see how you feel then. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

Author's Bio: 

I’m a licensed clinical social worker and have worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. I combine professional experience in the mental health field along with my love of writing to provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. I hope my down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life is easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!