Mindfulness is the cultivation of awareness. One practices by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. In his book “Mindfulness for Beginners” Jon Kabat-Zin tells us how mindfulness training changes both the structure and the functioning of the brain. This has implications on how we relate to our thoughts and our emotions. Especially our most reactive ones.
Most of our thoughts are mindless. We are often focusing them in the past or we live in the future. If we have negative thoughts it triggers the stress response. This suppresses creative thinking because the brain is in fright/flight/freeze mode.
When we practice mindfulness we can learn to be accepting and have no judgement of our thoughts. It helps us to notice when we are worrying which impedes our creativity and performance. Our body doesn’t know the difference between what is real and is imagined. It will thus respond to a negative thinking by releasing stress hormones. They impact our physiology, emotions and behaviour. We call this the mind/body connection.
When we are doing mundane tasks or we are bored, our thinking becomes our default setting. Our mind has a life of it’s own. It goes 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. It gives rise to a different kind of thinking and enhances creativity. When we pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations from moment to moment, we give ourselves the opportunity for 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 with the changing weather patterns of our lives. Our emotions, moods, thoughts and 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 recognize how self-absorbed we can be and to catch ourselves when we are doing it. These thought habits distort reality and imprison us.
When we are not paying attention we are operating on automatic pilot . Examples of this are when we are driving our car. We can sometimes drive for miles without being aware of what we are doing.
In the same way, we may not be “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” by events around us. Thoughts, feelings and sensations can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood.
When we doing mundane tasks we can be “in our heads” 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 teaches us to befriend our thinking. To hold 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
To slow down or stop brain chatter and automatic or habitual reactions. Experiencing the present moment as it really is.
To practice acknowledging the thoughts. Letting them go without judgement. To keep focus on being in the present moment. Not discounting them – 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 – 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. They become one seamless whole, which we call living with awareness.
You can practice mindful activity with mundane tasks such as washing up.
Notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on the skin.
The texture of the bubbles
Hear the bubbles as they pop.
The sound as we take out and put dishes into the water.
The smoothness of the plates
The texture of the sponge.
Noticing what you do 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 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 to reclaim the only moment we ever have, which is always this one. Being mindful of this moment means that the next moment can be hugely different. This is because you are aware and not imposing anything on it in advance.
I have equipped many people with the tools to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices reduce stress, anxiety and depression. And if you have an addiction it can significantly reduce cravings.
Contact me today for a no obligation complimentary session so that I can get an understanding of what you are going through and how I can help you.
Jon Kabat-Zin is a prolific author on mindfulness and I recommend his books.