Let me first clarify what mindfulness is; It’s certainly not about spending an hour every day doing nothing and trying to make one’s mind go blank. Mindfulness is setting the intention to be fully present in the current moment taking cognisance of our emotions, sensations in our body and our internal thoughts. Developing what we call the triangle of awareness is the starting point of mindfulness.
Why is it important to do this?
By default our mind goes on and on; It is never blank; Rarely are we focusing on our current experience; We are either absorbed in the past; Remembering, angering, resenting, interpreting something that happened or, if we are not reminiscing we are thinking about the future; predicting, worrying, with all sorts of scenarios playing in our mind. As we do this, because our body doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined our thoughts trigger stress responses in our body. This is because whatever happens in our mind is mirrored in the body and whatever is happening in our body is mirrored in the mind. If we habitually have negative thoughts, not only is our body in a state of constant stress, it affects our mood and we feel unhappy. This prevents us from enjoying the pleasure of now. This constant state of stress and unhappiness becomes our norm and it is often not until we are lying on a beach or are in some other place in nature that we can relax and be in the present moment.
Mindfulness practices help us to be in the now; To be aware of what we are feeling; What we are experiencing in our body and what we are saying to ourselves; How we are interpreting the now; What stories we are telling ourselves. Our interpretations of the now are often based on the beliefs we have formed about ourselves, others and the world around us. These beliefs are our filters of how we experience the world.
When we are mindful we can be cognisant of our current experience at that precise moment BEFORE we spiral into old patterns of behaviour and emotional reactivity. So often we do or say something that later, when we have calmed down we regret.
The challenge, of course for most of us, is taking the necessary steps to change and we may view it as just one more thing that we have to do in our already hectic lives. We can go gung- ho into a “project” of personal growth which becomes unsustainable and we default to our old ways of being.
As I mentioned previously, mindfulness is not something you do it is a way of being. We simply set the intention to be mindful as we go about our normal daily activities observing :-
- What we are seeing; Objects large or small, in the distance or near, differing shapes and colours.
- What sounds we are hearing; Loud or quiet, pleasant or unpleasant, neutral, hard or soft.
- Our thoughts; What we are saying to ourselves – labels, interpretations, are they true or false.
- Our emotions; Happy, unhappy, calm, anxious, stressed, worried, excited etc.
- Sensations in our body; comfortable, uncomfortable, texture of clothes, ground beneath our feet, support of surface on which we are sitting or lying. Temperature; cold, warm, neutral, skin dry or sweating, breeze or not on exposed skin.
- Sensations of the body breathing; Feeling it in the chest, abdomen and nostrils, noticing the difference in sensations between an in and outward breath.
- What we can smell; pleasant or unpleasant.
- What we can taste
And we can do this whilst we are:-
- Eating – Turning off the TV and giving our full attention to eating. Eating is a sensual experience and if we pay attention to all of our senses we gain far more satisfaction from our food and we often eat less.
- Whilst we are standing in queue or sitting in traffic.
- Bathing or showering
- Sitting on a bus, train or plane
As we practice mindfulness in our daily activities we become more conscious of ourselves and our responses. We become aware of our default patterns and in that moment we can choose to think, feel and react in a different way.
So, we don’t have to set aside time every day to do mindfulness. In the everyday activities of our lives we can practice being mindful.