Mindfulness practice: let go of perfection to be in the present

Kristin Hunter


Minto-Mapleton FHT

About 20 years ago, I came across a book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and it completely changed how I looked at my thinking. 

The author writes about how we can become stuck in a default mental state where we spend much of our time listening to the “thinking mind” as it judges, assesses, plans for the future, or replays the past. 

When we place our attention on (or listen to) the thinking mind, it pulls us out of the present moment. The present moment, though, is important as it’s where life actually happens. 

Unfortunately, when we are thinking instead of being in the present, we can miss the precious moments of our lives, as they pass us by in real time. 

This idea is very much aligned with the practice of mindfulness. 

The goal of mindfulness is to be an observer of your thoughts instead of allowing thoughts to grab all your attention. 

Many people are apprehensive about learning about mindfulness or beginning a mindfulness practice because, as they try to stop the thoughts, they just keep coming. 

That’s exactly it – thoughts do keep coming. The key is to shift from the role of passive participant to the role of the observer of the thoughts. 

When we take on the role of an observer, we notice the thoughts, label them, and let them go. 

This is why some give up on mindfulness. They are attempting to aim for perfection by achieving a state of ‘no thoughts’ and believe that if the thoughts are still coming up, then it means that they can’t do it or are failing. This is not true. 

Even the most well-known mindfulness practitioners still have thoughts. 

The key is not to over-identify with the thoughts, especially when these thoughts are self-critical and judgmental. 

So, when you have a thought that’s critical of yourself, notice it, see it for what it is, wave, and then let it go.

When learning anything new, it helps to practice self-compassion. Like any skill, it takes practice and patience to get it right. 

When you start, you may get lost in thoughts that are pulling you out of the here and now, and that’s okay. 

Self-compassion is the act of treating yourself like someone you care about. 

In the case of learning the skill of mindfulness, self-compassion means being gentle with yourself when you fall back into old habits of following the thoughts. 

When you notice you are listening to the thinking mind, gently bring yourself back to the present moment by letting go of these thoughts. 

For example, visualize in your mind letting go of the thoughts by placing them on leaves on a gentle stream moving away from you. Notice how the leaves float further and further away. As more thoughts come up, continue to place them on leaves and let them float away on the stream.

Mindfulness can also happen by being aware of our body and our breath. 

When we tune into what is happening within our body, it allows us to tap into what the body might be trying to tell us. 

Take a moment to do a scan or inventory of your body from head to toe. What do you notice? 

Remain curious about what you notice, and what your body could be trying to tell you. Respond to your body based on these observations. 

Taking notice of our breath is another way to calm the mind and practice mindfulness. 

When stressed, we often forget to take deep breaths, and doing so can help our nervous system to regulate our body. 

Take a moment to take some deep, slow, belly breaths. What do you notice? How does your body feel? 

As I write this, it is a beautiful spring day. I have the windows open for the sounds of nature to be welcomed inside. I can hear birds singing. There is a slight breeze blowing through the leaves on the trees. I can smell fresh cut grass in the air. 

My senses bring me into the present moment. 

Another mindfulness tool is being in and enjoying nature. 

When we bring our full attention to our five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) this can bring us back into the moment, quiet the thinking mind, and help us to access a state of mindfulness. 

Try this out the next time you go for a walk or a hike. Instead of listening to your thinking mind, place your attention fully on your senses. Doing so allows nature to be your mindfulness guide.

Open your mind to mindfulness. 

It reduces stress, allows for deep appreciation of the world around us, and allows us to fully appreciate our experiences. 

It’s not about perfection. It is about being an observer of your thoughts and bringing yourself back to the present moment. This is where life is taking place. 

Use self-compassion, the mind and body, and nature as your guide to a more mindful, and present life. 

Play around with mindfulness. Your mind and body will thank you. 

For more information about any of the free services offered by the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team, visit mmfht.ca or call the Drayton/Palmerston office at 519-638-2110, Harriston office at 866-260-9672 or Clifford office at 519-327-4777. 

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