“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
By now, you have all heard about mindfulness and its super powers.
You may have read how mindfulness can help you sleep, give you extra energy and focus and can help you generally be a better person. This almost sounds like mindfulness is the antidote to being a person surviving in the 21st century in an increasingly fast paced society.
Yet we know that mindfulness was around during a very different time and a very different world. Somehow over the past few years the western culture has become very interested in these ancient practices. It is uncertain exactly when we began turning our attention inward but we do know that such traditions have been around for centuries. Buddha and Zoroaster are both known to have meditated for days and weeks on end in search of knowing themselves.
So why are we so concerned with it now? Maybe we are realising the tolls our lifestyles are taking on our bodies and emotional well being? Maybe we are witnessing our relationships deteriorate and it is dawning on us that perhaps we are at fault? Or maybe mindfulness has been advertised to us as the latest way to “solve” the human condition. For whatever reason, we are seeing the rise and rise of mediation and mindfulness around the globe.
With all this talk of mindfulness, I am realising how many fallacies exist about what mindfulness actually is!
- Mindfulness is not designed to help you relax. You may experience relaxation as a result of meditation, but you may also experience discomfort, sadness or a range of other emotion. In fact there is no real outcome other than to understand and observe yourself free of judgement.
- Mindfulness is not designed to “problem solve”. To problem solve suggests there is a problem and means you are judging the feeling/thought. At the core of the philosophy, is the universal acceptance of yourself and others.
- Mindfulness brings attention to the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ parts of yourself without discrimination and thus, can be a painful experience.
- You are encouraged to step outside of your thoughts and observe them, observe yourself thinking the thoughts, not to actually think them.
- Mindfulness can work toward breaking down your ego, the defences you have built up in order to keep your vulnerabilities hidden from the outside world (but again, this is not the goal – simply an outcome of observing ones self).
The other misconception is that we could meditate from time to time and see some drastic changes in our personality or stress levels. Being mindful, is just that – a way of being. I am not saying that meditating from time to time is not a positive thing, but it is definitely a journey, one that takes constant effort. There may be times where you are able to afford it more energy and thought and these are times where you may see different outcomes. I dont think there is any final goal or end.
While I may not be a guru and cant claim that I practice mindfulness to the best of my ability or potential, I do know a few ways to introduce this practice into your lives.
HOW do I do this?
Some ways to begin your journey. These are things that are outside the normal body scan or meditation practices. These work best when added to parts of your normal daily routine eg mindful eating at lunch time or body scan during your shower. You can start your practice with some of the below listed ways and head toward daily meditation.
1) One Minute Exercise – Sit in front of a clock or watch that you can use to time the passing of one minute. Your task is to focus your entire attention on your breathing, and nothing else, for the minute. Have a go – do it now.
2) Body Scan – A popular technique to measure and experience every feeling and sensation your body. There are various ways to do the body scan but one way is to take 20 mins and go from the top of your head through each part of the body paying attention to EVERY feeling. A great technique for pain management or situations where you may feel strong emotions. When you are able to safely go through the scan, you can allow your body to speak to you about what is happening and you may realise the strong emotions are less intense or subside completely.
3) Mindful Eating – This involves sitting down at a table and eating a meal without engaging in any other activities – no newspaper, book, TV, radio, music, or talking. Now eat your meal paying full attention to which piece of food you select to eat, how it looks, how it smells, how you cut the food, the muscles you use to raise it to your mouth, the texture and taste of the food as you chew it slowly.
You may be amazed at how different food tastes when eaten in this way and how filling a meal can be. It is also very good for the digestion.
4) Mindful Walking – Here the same principle, while walking you concentrate on the feel of the ground under your feet, your breathing while walking. Just observe what is around you as you walk, staying IN THE PRESENT. Let your other thoughts go, just look at the sky, the view, the other walkers; feel the wind, the temperature on your skin; enjoy the moment.
5) Ground Yourself – close your eyes and give yourself one minute to truly listen – try to count all the different sounds that you can hear. The goal here is not to be attached to any goal at all! Simply listen and see what you find. This may also calm the nerves.
6) Thought Clouds – Imagine you are the sky and each thought you have is pinned/attached to a cloud that passes by. Thoughts are not permanent and are sometimes not even reality. Remember that thoughts come and go, like clouds.
Koke Saavedra explains that mindfulness is like turning on a light and illuminating what is happening in the present moment. It is about self awareness, not just knowledge, and also about learning to love all parts of our self, even the parts we are unsure of. I cant claim to be an expert in the field, but I can see that some of the misunderstandings about mindfulness can lead people to think they are doing something wrong, or that meditation “doesn’t work for them”, the reality is just a little bit everyday cannot fail you as long as you are giving it the proper attention and awareness it deserves.
Hopefully this is understandable and helpful – I would love to know what ways you remain mindful and aware!
Resources I used In This Piece
– Elliston, P. Mindfulness in medicine and everyday life. British Medical Journal, Nov 2001
– Saavedra. K (2013) Mindfulness and Self Regulation. Compass Seminars.
– Black dog Mindfulness factsheet