Mindfulness, with its origins in Buddhism dating back thousands of years with Buddha himself, is the practice of focusing your attention on what is present, i.e. the here and now. Simply, practicing mindfulness helps to develop a good sense of being, self-knowledge, and wisdom that allows you to eliminate or see past superficial preoccupations. It directs your attention to the smaller, sometimes more important things in life. Like a compass, it helps you navigate your journey towards a life of meaningfulness and even enlightenment. It is, therefore, no surprise that many practice mindful meditations to cultivate their purpose in life, also known as ikigai.
Essentially, the Japanese concept of ikigai is following one’s purpose in life. It is a convergence of passion, skills, social well-being and giving. Where these components intersect is where you can find yours.
However, in order to go beyond passion and advance towards a deeper sense of purpose, it is necessary to be in the right frame of mind. Mindful meditation can put you there.
This type of meditation is not a difficult form of mindfulness and it is one you can do literally anywhere. There are two basic types of mindful meditation.
- There is internal mindfulness in which you spend a certain amount of time clearing your mind of clutter. Deliberately you dedicate your thoughts inward towards yourself and how you feel at a given moment.
- There is external mindfulness in which you spend brief moments taking in your surroundings. Your thoughts focus more on what you are doing and how your actions affect those around you. This type of meditation will help you to fully appreciate the moment surrounding you and the experience you are in.
Indeed, both types may take some time to get used to, but through habitual practice, you can become more comfortable. Over time you will surely see the benefits that mindful meditation can have on your life and your ikigai.
Be mindful of your health
While fundamentally true, it is easy to argue that ikigai is not just about your passion and desire to change the world around you. It is about living. With that, it is easy to see that ikigai encompasses you entirely. Specifically, your purpose in life is ultimately keeping strong your own mental well-being. Which is why practicing mindful meditation can help.
Being mindful of your surroundings can help to relieve yourself of anxiety and stress caused by external factors or things that you have little control over. Essentially, by being mindful of what is outside your influence, you can gain an objective view of your situation.
Having such an objective view helps you to identify the barriers between where you are and where you want to be. Recognizing your surroundings in this way reveals what influences them. New paths of opportunity and ways of getting through tough times become clear as does your method for handling them.
With such a mindful view on what is outside of you, you can more readily manage your emotions, both positive and negative. In this way, internal mindfulness can reduce hypertension and aid muscle relaxation thus improving your physical health.
Furthermore, understanding your own thoughts leads to acknowledging how you feel. More importantly, internal mindfulness helps you to consider why you might feel that way and how you want to proceed, change directions, or just stop. You can better serve your purpose in life if you are of the right mind to do so.
Be mindful of what you eat
Just as mindfulness improves mental well-being, it is equally important to be mindful of what you put into your body. In other words, you must take care of your physical self, in particular, what you eat and how much you eat.
According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation study titled, “Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017“, there is a direct correlation between healthy diets and life expectancy rates.
The study makes clear that diets with a low intake of sodium and a high intake of whole grains and fruits are key to preventing dietary risk. A suboptimal diet is more detrimental to your health than other activities such as smoking.
Also, be mindful of the amount of calorie intake you consume. There is no need to stuff yourself. Eat to live, not live to eat. Not surprisingly, it is the leading cause of obesity.
Even furthermore, being mindful of how frequently you exercise is important as well. You owe it to yourself to exercise regularly and keep yourself fit. Your health is first and foremost the most important aspect of your life. Without it, it is difficult to do much of anything, let alone following your passions and dreams.
Be mindful to see things as they are
Being in the here and now is relaxing. It is an open door to your surroundings without preconception or distraction. Mindfulness allows you to eliminate or see past superficial preoccupations and directs your attention to the smaller, more important things in life that are happening.
With every positive sensation, feeling, and importantly, absence of distraction, you are putting yourself in a relaxed state that facilitates a heightened level of concentration in what you are doing. In many ways, this form of self-reflection is necessary for you and your ikigai.
Practicing mindfulness can shed new light on your own thoughts and rationality. This reflection on oneself is a pathway to acceptance based on meaning. It can improve your well-being and foster a more satisfying lifestyle. There will be less of a chance that you will become anxious about the future or feel a sense of regret about the past.
At the same time, it also facilitates acceptance of what is present, be it positive or negative, and reduces any biases or tendencies to pass judgment, become averse or outright avoid situations. Being mindful about seeing things as they also help you to align your values and beliefs.
That is not to say that you must agree or accept the situation as it is.
Never should you abandon your principles for the sake of neutrality or inaction. If you feel that change and growth are needed on a personal level or within society in general, then surely you should be compelled to act. Indeed, being mindful then would make your purpose all the clearer. You may even find yourself being more positive about your challenges and more creative towards your solutions.
The Beginner’s Mind
People who enjoy their ikigai would tell you that one of their secrets to happiness in life is to remain a child and maintain a “Beginner’s Mind.” In other words, you should keep an attitude of eagerness and openness to learning new things even if you have been practicing them for years. Keeping such curiosity will ensure that you are always moving forward, never being stuck.
Indeed, practicing mindfulness at the earliest stages on your journey can be considered one of the most important aspects to finding your ikigai.
When just starting your journey, more likely than not you have few ingrained opinions and therefore may be more receptive to new ideas and possibilities. Your lack of prior experience means that you have no biases or habits to break and are more open to listening to those who went before you. You can create new routines that support you with your ikigai.
Of course, having a child’s mind can be challenging for those who have years of experience under their belts. It can be hard to cast aside all that you know, empty your mind and begin anew. With ingrained habits and ways of doing things, it is often hard to do things differently.
However, this should only strengthen your need to make an effort to be mindful of the present. Only then can you cast aside excess and sculpt yourself into a purposeful being.
In Zen this is known as the “uncarved block.”
Mindfulness towards others
Your ikigai is as unique to you as mine is to me. Yours speaks only to you and provides only you with relevant meaning for a purposeful life. Conversely, my thoughts and feelings towards your purpose are as irrelevant to you as yours are to me. The only audience that needs to understand and relate to your ikigai is you.
Understand, there is no one size fits all approach to ikigai. Providing that you do not cause harm or obstruct the lives of others, there is no correct or incorrect way to drive your passion. Your path and mine are different and we should always be mindful of that.
Being said, it seems that we may be programmed to create opinions or generalizations about the world around us rather than appreciate things for the way they are. It is ever too common in all of us to easily pass judgement on someone or something we know little about, be it secretly or out in the open. For some, this behavior is habitual and quite difficult to break free from.
Practicing mindfulness will help you walk in the shoes of others and appreciate them for who they are without any type of stereotype or characterization. Accepting the beliefs and values of others can open you up to new experiences and opportunities. You become happier in your own quest because you are not weighed down trying to figure out why others do what they do.
Mindfulness builds confidence
As you begin your path to finding and following a life of purpose, at some point you may want to expand your circle of influence and grow your ikigai to a level beyond a personal hobby. For example, you may find that you are able to monetize your efforts or volunteer your time and skills to reach more people and impact your community in a bigger way.
Of course, making such a transition is completely up to you and definitely feasible, but expanding your ikigai to benefit people beyond your immediate self takes a concentrated amount effort and dedication.
One of the biggest obstacles that one needs to overcome, however, is the fear of failure. Too often we do not give ourselves the permission to make mistakes. We often see failure as a negative experience and try to avoid it as much as possible. It is in our nature to do so.
And even though we tell ourselves that it is a necessary part of growing, we somehow always fall victim to embarrassment or shame whenever we reach a setback or make a poor decision. It is important to not succumb to this and give up. Practicing mindfulness can help you get through it.
By making a sustained effort to be mindful and focus on the present you are able to relax your anxieties and see any setbacks as challenges rather than your own inability to complete a certain task. In this way, you can develop more trust in yourself and your ability to navigate such turbulent tides. As you take calculated steps towards correcting your position, you build authority and confidence in your approach.
It is through being in the here and now that you can clearly identify what is in your control and what is not. You can then find the courage to go beyond personal passions and spread your ikigai wider and wider.
Know when to take a step back
Just as being mindful allows you to build confidence and trust in yourself, it also helps prepare you for when you get too caught up and are unable to see things clearly anymore.
As you build your passion over time, you innately become more protective of it. This is often a result of investing many hours and in some cases, a lot of money. The tipping point may be when you fail to recognize that your passion is holding you to a certain belief despite what you know is true. In this way, it is difficult to make rational decisions.
When being mindful it is important to consider what you value and how the current situation is affecting you. If you find that there is a negative impact on your ikigai, then regardless of how much time or money you have invested, it may be sensible to begin releasing yourself or letting go. There is no sense in following a path that is not aligned to what you believe.
Practice mindfulness to develop a profound appreciation for your purpose in life regardless of recognition or rewards.
For better or worse, life is filled with benchmarks, indicators, and targets. It is all too natural to want gratification or a sense of accomplishment. Think about how often you push yourself in everything you do, sports, business, grad school, weight loss and so on. When you achieve the desired results, only then do you permit yourself to bask in the glory.
Failing to reach them however, can produce a variety of negative feelings or a drop in motivation. Understand however, that this is a false sense of ikigai.
Admittedly, while there is satisfaction in winning the game, it is important to note that ikigai does not necessarily demand such zero-sum behavior. There is never a point where you accomplish it or threshold to achieve. You follow your passion forever because you enjoy it. Never stop, only continue. Ikigai is life. It is forever and always motivating on its own terms.
Mindfulness helps you to release yourself from pursuing superficial results and instills a greater sense of patience. As you become more and more patient and resist the urge for immediate gratification, you allow yourself to focus on what is meaningful.
Moreover, you become more comfortable with the amount of time it takes to develop your skills and become more adept at your craft. Mindfulness presents ways to go even deeper, bringing a heightened sense of satisfaction to what you do in the long run. Over time, your passion and understanding in terms of “why” you do it becomes clearer, as does the “how”. Inevitably, you become more able to develop a more profound appreciation for your ikigai.
Take this moment to be mindful
Mindfulness, above all, is a form of meditation that has a variety of positive effects on your life.
It is wise to invest in yourself by paying attention to what is going on around you and within you. Should you make a conscious effort to continue practicing and form a habit of being in the here and now. Undoubtedly it may be difficult to start, but surely you will find that it becomes easier over time.
You will begin to see patterns in your behavior, what you are mindful of, and of course, what you are not. You will be able to develop your skills and improve your well-being. Releasing preconceptions and other conditions you cling to will get easier.
So, pay attention to those moments where you find yourself enjoying the moment. Reflect on how the moment makes you feel. Take note of it, then try to repeat it as often as you can. You will soon realize that you are moving towards a much happier life, a life of purpose, a life of ikigai.