Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.
In his book “Mindfulness for Beginners” Jon Kabat-Zin says “Scientific research shows that mindfulness training seems to change both the structure and the functioning of the brain in interesting and important ways and what some of the implications of this might be for how we relate to our thoughts and our emotions; especially our most reactive ones” Most of our thoughts are mindless ; We are often focusing our thoughts in the past or live in the future – worrying – This triggers the stress response and affects how our brain works and suppresses creative thinking because the brain is in fright/flight/freeze mode. When we practice mindfulness we can be accepting and have no judgement – it stops us worrying which impedes our creativity and performance. The body doesn’t know the difference between what is real and is imagined therefore it will respond to a negative thought by releasing stress hormones which in turn impacts on our physiology, emotions and behaviour. We call this the mind/body connection.
When we are doing mundane tasks or we are bored, thinking becomes our default setting. Our minds can run amuck, it has a life of it’s own – going on and on and on…….planning, fantasising, worrying, disliking, remembering, reacting….. telling itself stories. There is nothing wrong with thinking – critical thinking in particular is important. Awareness of thought is even more powerful as it gives rise to a different kind of thinking and enhances creativity.
By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old “mental ruts” that may have caused problems in the past.
To understand oneself and to become aware takes practice – we first need to “tune our machine” the mind – stabilize it so we can do the work of paying attention in a sustained and reliable way. We can then learn to become aware of what is going on beneath the surface of it’s own activities.
We use the ocean as a metaphor of the mind – it’s surface can change due to various atmospheric conditions – there can be a raging storm on the surface but if you go far enough down below the surface there is no turbulence at all. Our mind is similar. The surface changes constantly with the changing weather patterns of our lives – emotions, moods, thoughts, experiences – we can feel victimized or blinded by our thoughts – we mistake them for truth or for reality when they are just waves on the surface.
How we relate to all our moments and experiences is a choice – We can choose to recognise how self-absorbed, self-preoccupied we can be and to catch ourselves when we are doing it. These thought habits distort reality and imprison us. “I, me, mine.
Automatic Pilot – Mindlessness
In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on “automatic pilot”, without really being aware of what we are doing. In the same way, we may not be really “present”, moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: We can often be “miles away” without knowing it.
On Automatic Pilot, we are more likely to have our “buttons pressed”; Events around us and thoughts, feelings and sensations (of which we may be only dimly aware) can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood.
If we wash the dishes each evening, we might tend to be “in our heads” as we’re washing up, thinking about what we have to do, what we’ve done earlier in the day, worrying about future events, or regretful thoughts about the past.
Meditation is about befriending our thinking – holding it in gentle awareness – not about shutting off thoughts or changing them. Trying to shut them off would be like trying to stop the ocean from waving.
Purpose of Meditation practices and mindful movements:-
- Slow down or stop brain chatter and automatic or habitual reactions, experiencing the present moment as it really is.
- Must acknowledge the thoughts – letting them go without judgement and retain focus on being in the present moment – not discounting thought – tapping into something bigger – “awareness”.
- Giving up wanting anything else to happen for the moment.
We can practice mindfulness in two ways:-
Formally – which means engaging in making some time every day to practice meditation
Informally – which means letting the practice spill over into every aspect of your waking life in an uncontrived and natural way by engaging in mindful activity
These two modes of practice go hand in hand and support each other and ultimately become one seamless whole, which we call living with awareness.
Washing up or another routine activity can become a routine (practice of) mindful activity for us. We might notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on the skin, the texture of the bubbles on the skin, and yes, we might hear the bubbles as they softly pop. The sound of the water as we take out and put dishes into the water. The smoothness of the plates, and the texture of the sponge. Just noticing what we might not normally notice.
A mindful walk brings new pleasures. Walking is something most of us do at some time during the day. We can practice, even if only for a couple of minutes at a time, mindful walking. Rather than be “in our heads”, we can look around and notice what we see, hear, sense. Our senses are the only way we know the world. We might notice the sensations in our own body just through the act of walking. Noticing the sensations and movement of our feet, legs, arms, head and body as we take each step. Noticing our breathing. Thoughts will continuously intrude, but we can just notice them, and then bring our attention back to our walking.
Mindfulness helps us not to be trapped in either our past or our ideas and concepts but to rather reclaim the only moment we ever really have, which is always this one. Being mindful of this moment means that the next moment can be hugely and creatively different because you are aware and not imposing anything on it in advance.
If you wish to learn “mindfulness meditation” contact me today! Jon Kabat-Zin is a prolific author on mindfulness and I highly recommend his books.