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“Being Aware” by Marcia Carvalho

Posted April 2013

Imagine that the only thing that matters is the present moment: who you are, where you are and what you are doing right now. It does not matter what happened in your past or what is going to happen in your future. This is “mindfulness”. In the midst of a life crisis, I decided to learn more about this word and it turned out to be a life-changing experience.

I first heard the word mindfulness not a long time ago. I was in a Buddhist temple and at that moment I did not understand the exact meaning of the word. As time passed, I learned that being mindful is being fully aware of what is going on here and now. However at that point I still could not understand the purpose of being mindful.

Then I realized that mindfulness is a way to find happiness. I used to live my life regretting my past or worrying about my future. And these are states of mind that strongly prevent our happiness. The goal of living at the present moment is to fully enjoy that moment, because it is what really exists. The past is gone and the future is not here yet, so they simply do not exist.

I had a hard time when I arrived in the United States. I left behind family, friends and career, to live here with my husband. I was constantly thinking about my past and worrying about my future. There was no space in my mind to the present, despite the many opportunities I had to enjoy it. I could go out for a walk, take yoga classes or have lunch with friends. But nothing would make me feel better. My pain was only relieved when I changed my mind setting. And this happened when I decided to appreciate the present moment.

My first reaction after understanding the meaning of mindfulness was disbelief. Is it really possible? Can someone be mindful twenty-four hours a day? Forgetting the past is difficult, but not impossible. The past is over and there is nothing we can do to change it. What about the future? What about tomorrow?

Most people would say it is impossible not to think about the future. I disagree. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry and fear are caused by thoughts about the future. I remember moments in my life when I was overwhelmed by fear of the future. When I decided to leave my parents’ home and move to another town I was in panic. And I remember how hard it was to overcome the fear and stay firm in my decision.

Of course I have plans for the future. But I do not spend my time worrying about it. I believe that my future depends on my present. So what I need to do is to take care of my present in order to succeed in the future. For example, as I want to apply for college next year, I am doing my best to get good grades in the prerequisite courses.

Thus my next challenge was to learn how to practice mindfulness. And of course it was not easy. But I tried. In fact I still try – every day, every hour, every minute and every second. It is a constant practice. Every time I begin to think about the past or about the future, I take a deep breath and remember myself who I am, where I am and what I am doing. This technique has helped me a lot. I also set my cell phone alarm three times a day to remember me to breath, and I practice group meditation once a week. I am not mindful twenty-four hours a day, but my moments of mindfulness during the day have been increasing gradually.

Yet my process of understanding mindfulness was not complete. I was associating mindfulness with selfishness. How could I think about the world around me if I was always thinking about my present moment? Later I found the answer to my question. To be mindful means to pay attention in what is happening right now, but not only in our lives. It is also to pay attention in what is happening around us, in other people’s lives. We are social beings. We are interconnected and interdependent beings. Thus our awareness must be extended to the world around us.

Also, what seems to be selfishness is indeed something we need to do. We need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to help others. After my arriving in the US, I was suffering so much that I was not able to help anybody. Now that I am fine, I am ready to help whoever is in need. For example, volunteer work is now part of my life. Gardening, cooking, mentoring and playing are some of the activities I have experienced as a volunteer. And it has been an extraordinary experience.

In the midst of our busy and stressful lives, mindfulness is a practice everyone should try. It can transform our lives. In fact, it has transformed my life. Paying attention to my thoughts, my feelings and my actions has helped me discover my true self and live a better life.