Have you ever driven home and cannot recall any of the journey? Suddenly noticed something on your street that you haven’t previously? Or ate your lunch but cannot remember eating it or what it tasted like? This is ‘mindLESSness’.
We are often so busy, so preoccupied with thoughts, of our endless to do lists, our daily mundane of ‘doing’ that we operate on autopilot. We run away with the thoughts in our head, get overwhelmed by what is on our plate and feel like we are living on a hamster wheel with no way off. Which all contributes to our mood, how we show up every day and our overall happiness and wellbeing.
We are too busy ‘human doing’, that we are no longer ‘human being’.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present and engaged in whatever we are doing at that moment and aware of where we are – free from distraction or judgement. It is about not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, or getting carried away with our thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness has numerous benefits, everything from decreased stress, anxiety and sadness to increased levels of focus, fulfilment and happiness. There is also growing research showing that when we train our brains to be mindful, we are actually remodelling the physical structure of our brains.
While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever we bring awareness to what we are directly experiencing via our senses, or to our state of mind via our thoughts and emotions, we are being mindful. We are not beholden to reactive thoughts and feelings — which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations.
One of the best ways to start a practice of being more mindful is to begin with mindfulness meditation. This can often feel very uncomfortable for some and images of sitting serenely quiet for hours on end with a blank mind put so many people off starting. That is not what mindfulness meditation is.
In essence mindful meditation really is just sitting quietly, listening to or feeling your breath, paying attention to a sound that is around you or to a feeling or sensation you may have, for example the wind in your hair.
Your mind will not be blank. Thoughts will rush in from all over the place. When they do, you notice them, look at them and then return to whatever you were focusing on before – the breath, a sound, a sensation. That is meditation. See the thought, look at it and return your attention to what you were focusing on. Not running away with the thought. That is the exercise, the rep – like a bicep curl.
There are so many good apps out there which can lead you through learning mindful meditation. Some good ones to look out for are:
Ten Percent Happier
You don’t have to meditate to be mindful, and actually the key to being more mindful is to bring the practice into your everyday life. Simply paying attention to the smallest moments in your everyday life is being mindful.
Some ideas on how to bring mindful moments into your day:
BREATHE – take three deep breaths, focus on feeling the air flow in and out at the nose, or the rise and fall of the chest or abdomen. You can do this when you sit down at your desk before you start work, or in your car before you drive off.
SMELL – breathe in, notice and name the smell of your coffee, tea, lunch, piece of fruit or snack or a plant or flower, just for a moment. This is great to do with that first morning cup of Joe.
TASTE AND TEXTURE – pay attention, notice and name the different tastes and textures of your food, how it feels on your lips, tongue, in your mouth and as you swallow it. This is great to try with a piece of chocolate!
FEEL – your feet on the ground, the contact they have with your shoes, your seat on the chair, where it contacts with your legs, or your cup in your hand, its temperature and texture against your skin. Even better if you can do it with bare feet on grass.
WALK – outside, notice the colours, patterns, the shapes and sounds of trees, the clouds or whatever you can see. Leave your phone behind and have no destination in mind, it doesn’t have to be long - just go for a walk and notice what you see, hear and smell.
Mindfulness meditation or moments don’t take very long, it can be less than a minute. There is no formal structure or routine. It’s about finding those small interludes in your day - pause, look/smell/hear, notice and then move on with your day.
What mindful moment can you find today?