Stop. Look. Listen. : A mantra of the mindful
I am a doer. I am someone who has a hard time sitting still for any significant period of time. Something usually has to happen to make me be still-unfortunately, it is often sickness or something where I have no other choice but to be still. Many of you out there can relate. That is why on this cold and snowy day in the DMV where virtually everything is shut down and most of us are shut-in, I could not think of a more timely topic than one on the importance of creating space for pause.
Given that I am in this season of parenting young children, most of my analogies come from references relevant to children so I apologize in advance. Recall that when teaching children about traffic safety, we tell them to “stop, look, and listen” so they can determine whether or not crossing a road is safe. Although this is a critical lesson for children when it comes to traffic safety, I would argue it is a lesson of equal importance and applicability for us as adults when it comes to self-care. I believe this notion of “Stop. Look. Listen.” provides a nice segue into a discussion on self-care, particularly as it relates to the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as “being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment…Put simply, mindfulness consist of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now.” (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010, p.15) It is difficult to be mindful when you are in the hustle and bustle of life. Oftentimes our minds are cluttered with schedules, professional and social obligations, social media and everything else that consumes our time and energy. Contrary to what some may believe, mindfulness doesn’t have to be some esoteric practice relegated to the likes of Buddhist monks and yogis. Mindfulness does require us, however, to stop, look and listen as described below:
Stop– Mindfulness can be practiced both formally and informally (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010). Formal practice involves taking time out each day to sit and bring your awareness to various internal and external processes (e.g. your breathing, your thoughts, etc). Informal practice involves taking a moment to bring your awareness to whatever activity you are in the midst of doing, like taking a walk outside (e.g. the pavement against your feet, the smells in the air, what you see). Whatever the practice, informal or formal, both require some level of ceasing what you are doing, or the way in which you are doing it to be present in the moment.
Look (Observe)-“Look” has to do with bringing your awareness to whatever internal or external processes are happening. It is focused and intentional.
Listen– For me listening is active. Being mindful of our internal processes, our mood states, physical sensations, can notify us of potential problems or inform us of next steps. We can learn quite a bit about ourselves but we have to “listen” which requires the previous steps of pausing (stop) and observing (look).
All too often we neglect ourselves in the name of being productive or “surviving” a season. We don’t have time, or better yet we don’t take time to be mindful of ourselves. As children we learn to be “mindful” of others or to take others into consideration. My belief is that we can also be mindful of ourselves in this regard as a way to promote self-care, not selfishness. Recall that caring for ourselves enables us to care for others. We can best care for ourselves when we are in tune with ourselves which happens when we “stop, look and listen.”
Stahl, B. & Goldstein, E. (2010). A mindfulness-based, stress reduction workbook.
Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.