Men and women today can easily be seen walking at a fast pace, rushing to get from one place to another. What isn’t evident is what thoughts are consuming their mind: a phone call they need to make, things they need to pick up on their way home, tasks to do once they get home to their tablets or laptops, children to get showered and put to bed and things still to be done at work.
I briefly touched on the topic of mindfulness last month and today, I’d like to talk more about what this actually means and what I’ve learned.
Stress is an unwanted companion to most of us, resulting in fatigue and sometimes frustration, anger or anxiety. During my first of 8 sessions of mindfulness training offered by work, we were asked to recall the last time we remembered being in the present. Not going through the motions, but actually remembering little details about what you were doing and what you were thinking about it at the time. During this session, at the end of January, the last time I felt present was when I was getting married in September.
Our mind is described as a flowing river with a strong current. It’s something that happens naturally and we cannot stop the thoughts that flow through our mind, but we can stay on the riverbank and just observe those thoughts without being engaged. In getting involved in a particular thought, we automatically respond by bringing through a stream of other thoughts and decisions and eventually, we either feel angry, stressed or anxious about what we’re thinking about. Let’s face it, rarely do we focus on happy thoughts. Instead we tend to think about things that we haven’t done or people who are annoying us. Being mindful teaches us to just watch the thoughts go by, but not attach any emotions to what’s happening.
Mindfulness training invovlves using meditation techniques to settle the mind, to allow us to be present in the moment and watch the thoughts go by without engaging with it. In the first week, we realise how difficult it is to just let our minds be, without letting our minds be consumed by what is going on around us and tasks that await us on our return. Real life is hardly a quiet place where you find the ‘perfect’ moment to calm the mind and we learned to embrace settling the mind in real life settings.
We were taught breathing techniques amongst others which were crucial in reminding us why we joined the course and what we hoped to achieve from it. During the meditative session where we focused on our breathing, where our breath entered our body and left, we were introduced questions that we were to think about and allowed our mind to bring forth thoughts like ripples from a pebble dropping into the water.
We also recognised how each thought is attached to an emotion. This in turn leads to a feeling, our body’s reaction to a thought. I learned how when stressed, my shoulder tenses and my face turns into a frown, but positive thoughts bring warm and tingly feelings throughout my body. In recognising how our bodies react to positive (and negative) imaginary situations, how hard it is to find and give self compassion. I had no trouble whatsoever sending kind and loving thoughts to friends and loved ones, but was automatically defensive when directing those thoughts to myself. Why are we so harsh and critical of ourselves when we wouldn’t direct those same words and thoughts to others?
At the end of the day, mindfulness is about learning to be non-judgmental in situations that could cause us stress and anxiety (learning to respond rather than react) and being kind. Not only do acts of kindness (including directing positive thoughts their way when you’re feeling frustrated) towards others potentially put them in a positive frame of mind, but it also helps alleviate the need for a fight or flight response (in a tense situation, your automatic reaction is either to freeze, flee or react negatively) lessen your body’s feelings of tension. The aim is to change our behaviour and do things differently which will result in personal growth and a happier, less stressed state of mind.
In our busy world, finding time for mindfulness is a juggling act, but recognising we haven’t practiced it allows for us to grow. We recognise that we have a need for it and like practicing any other skill we learn in life, mindfulness will need practicing to strengthen our minds to allow the habit of being mindful take root.
We practice by choosing activities where we can focus on the task at hand and being curious about what takes place in our minds. Using breathing techniques, we learn to let the thoughts flow through our mind. Start by choosing small tasks you do on a daily basis, like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth. You can also apply this to work scenarios, like answering e-mails or taking calls.
In highly emotional situations, I’m now trying to practice focusing on my breathing and sending kind thoughts to the other person who is driving me to become defensive. While I haven’t yet started, I also got myself an adult colouring book to try and give myself a moment of calm and peace without feeling the need to rush off and keep busy with matters that need my attention.
My mindfulness colouring book
Yoga and BodyBalance are also great ways to allow your mind to feel calm while focusing on breathing. For more information or courses, The Mindfulness Association is also a good resource. If you’re into technology, Headspace and Calm apps are also great ways of achieving mindfulness on the go.
I try and practice mindfulness meditation on the bus.