Does your mind so often feel crazy-busy and stuffed full?
Do you reach the end of the day and, yet again, find it has whizzed past in a blur of activity, to do lists and looking after other people, and in a whirlwind of thoughts, worries, plans and judgements?
Perhaps there’s an uncomfortable feeling that you life is whooshing past you and you have no idea where the years have gone.
This is the state of “mindfull-ness” that so many of us live in. We’re over-stimulated with too much going on. Never quite experiencing this moment because we’re going over what happened yesterday and worrying about all the things we need to do tomorrow.
It’s energy-zapping. It’s deeply exhausting. And it robs us of experiencing life as it is in the here and now.
However, drop one single letter from “mindfull-ness” and you have an approach to life which opens up thousands upon thousands of beautiful ways of being alive in and experiencing this present moment.
What is mindfulness?
You’ve probably heard the term “Mindfulness” a fair bit – the concept has made its way through into the mainstream and is mentioned a lot in the media.
But what does it actually mean?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) , “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”
So, it’s simply paying attention to whatever is going on in your present reality as it happens.
Whether that’s physical sensations within the body as you sit or move; noticing the details of the environment around you; noticing the thoughts in your head as they come and go (without getting dragged into their dramas) or truly listening to and being with the person in front of you.
Well, I say “simply” but, let’s be honest, it’s a challenge! (I well and truly put my hand up to say yes to that one!)
How to be mindful
The mind likes to move around. It likes to judge whether what’s going on is good, or bad, whether it could be better or worse. It likes to interpret. To offer judgements and solutions. A deeply useful skill to have.
But if this thinking / judging /analysing is always on the go… blimey, it’s difficult to switch off and just be in the moment!
Believe me, I know! My mind is a great multi-tasker and free-associator! It creates / judges / worries / remembers / plans. (And it’s particularly “effective” at coming up with great ideas when I lie-down to relax or sit to meditate! Oh the irony…)
Now, if you’re wanting your mind to shut up, be perfectly still and quiet, then … you’re probably going to be disappointed! Sorry, it’s not going to happen.
This is why mindfulness is such a powerful tool. Using mindful awareness of what’s going on around us in this moment, isn’t trying to stop the mind or silence it.
Instead it’s giving your mind something to focus on concerning what’s happening now. And with that present-moment focus we can begin to drop the dramas, the mulling over the past and worrying about the future.
Try mindfulness now
Pay attention to what you’re sitting on as you read this. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Notice the chair supporting the backs of your legs, your bum and your back.
Now gently relax your gaze and notice what you can see in your peripheral vision. What objects are around you? What colours, textures?
What sounds can you hear in this room … and beyond?
And breathe. Feel the physical sensations in your body as you breathe.
Engage all of your senses. What can you feel , hear, see, taste, smell?
How does this feel? Perhaps your mind is a little quieter. Maybe you feel a little more in the here and now?
Mindfulness each and every day
So, here are some more practical ways you can bring mindfulness into your daily life.
When you get out of bed, take a moment to feel the floor beneath your feet. Notice the warmth of the carpet or the coolness of the floor.
Eat your breakfast with awareness. Even if there’s mayhem in your household in the morning, commit to taking three mouthfuls mindfully. Smell the food. Feel its temperature and texture. Chew with awareness. Savour the taste. Be in this moment. Apply this to any mealtime.
On your journey to work (or wherever you need to travel to) bring your focus to what’s going on. Stuck in a traffic jam? Feel the car seat supporting you. Take some conscious, steady breaths. Notice if your mind is telling you that you should be stressed about the situation. Notice how this stress affects your body – your breath, your heart-rate, where does it create tension in your body?
When you’re walking, walk with intention. Feel each footstep as you alternately lift and place each foot. Feel your body’s movements. Notice the air moving past your body and on your face as you move. Notice the sounds and smells around you. Look up at the sky – a quick and simple way to get you out of your busy mind!
When you arrive at your destination notice how it feels to walk through the door, up the stairs. Notice the physical sensations of hand pushing against the door as you open it.
If you’re in a stressful situation, notice the effect it has on your body and mind. Notice the physical sensations, notice the judging thoughts. And just let them be, without trying to force them to change.
When you get home, notice your energy levels. Notice the thoughts you have about the day – and the judgements. Notice your impulses. Do you reach for sugary foods or alcohol to comfort yourself?
My favourite mindful moments during the day are to feel my feet on the ground, feel myself supported by my chair, take some deep breaths. Looking at the clouds moving across the sky and noticing the colour of the sky. Listening to the birds singing. Looking deeply into a flower. Stretching and feeling the lovely sense of release along my spine. Labelling the thoughts (usually “planning” or “remembering”!).
Release the judgements and drama
No matter what mindfulness techniques you use, always remember, the key to mindfulness – and improved mental wellbeing – is to release the judgements. Not trying to change or fix anything, but to be with whatever is.
You will begin to notice your thought patterns. Which feelings crop up most commonly e.g. fear, anger, frustration, anxiety. Or acceptance, excitement, generosity, connection, love.
Begin to silently name the feelings or familiar thoughts e.g. “worrying”, “remembering”, “planning”.
All this helps you to step back. To lift you up out of the whirlpool of fast-moving thoughts. To give you perspective. To realize how you have been trapped in your mind.
This brings a great sense of freedom. Calmness. Perspective. Peace.
I can’t promise you that your mind will become still – but you can certainly slow it down with simple, mindful awareness.
Commit to practising a little bit of mindfulness each and every day.
Press pause on the thoughts and allow serenity in.