Everyone talks about mindfulness these days: your boss, your colleagues, your friends, your therapist, your coach and the poster at the local community centre advertises mindfulness-based stress reduction sessions. We are bombarded with it to the point of saturation. And yet we resist. We say, well one day I might meditate or I should meditate and then we feel guilty for not doing so. In the end, all of it could add more mind chatter and result in confusion, rather than clarity. Given all of that, I decided to put together a small set of guidelines that will allow you to introduce mindfulness just a little bit more into your life.
What is mindfulness?
I love the following definition: paying attention to the present moment, on purpose. Our mind chats all the time, to the extent that we cannot separate direct experience, e.g. eating ice-cream from the story that we tell ourselves: “I don’t like vanilla”; “Wow, this reminds me of that summer in 1968 when we went to Sicily”; “It’s so cold, my tooth is aching”; “It’s great being here, too bad I have only two days of holiday left..” I suppose everyone can fill in the countless gaps. Now, let me be very clear with you. You cannot stop the chattering mind, this is simply impossible. The goal of mindfulness is to become better at noticing the storylines that you’re constantly creating. Once you notice it, you can decide to let go of it. That’s it. It’s the attempt to let go, the willingness to let go and the inclination to do so. You’re not supposed to do it perfectly or achieve some special state. You approach your mind with curiosity and notice – hmm… isn’t it interesting that my mind works like that. It’s also good to mix in some compassion into it: isn’t it difficult to live with a mind that behaves like that. So, to sum up, you’re giving yourself permission to accept the involuntary actions of the mind (chatter) and decide to let them be, rather than having a full-on debate with yourself.
What are the benefits?
I used mindfulness techniques with coaching and counselling clients, in group work and in teaching. In short, it works and I will not even cite the countless researchers that have provided evidence for it.
Here’s a list of the possible positive effects of regular mindfulness practice:
- greater awareness
- higher distress tolerance
- reduced anxiety
- deepening of relationships and a greater sense of connection with the world
- more openness to yourself and others
- development of compassion
- reduced blood pressure and a boost to your immune system
- improvement of learning abilities and enhanced memory
- better emotional self-regulation
OK, I reckon that by now you would be sort of convinced. There is another central argument that may be worth your while. It’s been reported that our minds wander between 30 – 50% of the time. So you can potentially spend half of your life thinking about something else than what you are doing at the moment. Another study showed that the more people think about what they are currently doing, the happier they become. It doesn’t matter if you’re mopping the floor or spending time with your friends. It doesn’t matter if you like what you’re doing or not. The biggest predictor of your capacity to be happy is your ability to be in the here and now. That’s it.
What might happen in the long run?
Consider the following metaphor: imagine your mind as a glass; it may be filled with a tiny bit of water or it may be filled almost to the brim. You put in a tiny piece of paper soaked in ink.
The ink starts to move in the water.
After some time, the ink will be distributed evenly.
Eventually, the glass with less water will become murky – that’s how stress clouds your mind. The glass with plenty of water will become somewhat murky, but you can still see everything through it with crisp clear transparency. This is what your mind will become: a broad recipient of experiences that can be contained in it without clouding your judgement.
How to practice it?
I know we are all looking for shortcuts and tips that make things easier. So, if sitting down for 10 minutes a day is too much, you can try the following:
- mindful eating – eat slowly, chew thoroughly and tastefully.
- mindful walking – walk at your pace, observe the world with wonder and notice your feet.
- mindful oral hygiene – brush your teeth carefully, pay attention to each surface and be thorough and gentle at the same time. Don’t forget to floss J
- mindful showering – notice the water on your skin, your hands cleaning your body with care and give yourself a couple of extra minutes to take the heat in on a cold day.
- mindful cycling – listen to your bike, feel your muscles working and notice the changing rhythms of your breath.
As you can see, there is scope for all sorts of mindfulness practices. Think of it as mental hygiene, it is needed to maintain a fresh mind. If you would like to consider some more formal mindfulness practice, check out the video below.
This is very valuable – thank you. It is true that the attempt to control our thoughts results in unhapiness. Humans are filled with contradictions that are surprising and unexpected at times.
I liked the metaphore with the glasses!