Joyfully mindful, or mindlessly anxious?
I walk along the pathway, lightly scuffing through the fallen leaves of red, orange and gold that collect at my feet. The sky above is the brightest blue, and as I look up the sun’s rays are warm on my face. I drink in the country fresh air, feeling fully alive. All of my awareness, all of my attention, is focused on this moment. Fully present. Right here, right now.
But how often have we driven along a stretch of road and not remembered a single mile? Or forgotten whether we locked the front door? Did you switch the iron off? Leave the heating on? Close the fridge door properly?
When performing familiar activities, often the mind has raced ahead, or been diverted by a daydream, and we can’t remember what we have done. We were not paying attention.
Worse still, as our racing mind leaps ahead, it flits from one imagined scenario to the next – the as yet unanswered phonecall is bound to be bad news, the unopened letter is sure to be a bill, the routine checkup will definitely unveil hidden horrors. Our awareness is fractured by unwelcome thoughts scattering our attention to the winds.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could learn not to worry needlessly about stuff that hasn’t even happened?
How helpful it would be if we could keep our minds more firmly fixed in the present as we drive that stretch of road, turn that key, switch off that iron. Much less stress!
Stop the Pandemic, I want to get off!
Mindfulness, being fully present, almost seems to be at odds with the current world pandemic. Why wouldn’t we prefer to distract ourselves from reality with a laughing dog, a gorgeous cat, or the book where everyone lives happily ever after?
Escapism, in all its many forms, feels like an attractive alternative. Bet harder, run faster, drink more alcohol, sleep longer, eat more – our distractions are myriad.
But, in our dark hours, the longer hours of the day and night when we are not running away from our selves, escapism brings little relief, and also brings its own problems. In the UK, Drinkaware found that 22% of people were drinking more alcohol during the first lockdown. And 48% of people surveyed by King’s College London/Ipsos MORI said that they had put on weight.
In these darker hours, everyday life can seem overwhelming, our thoughts whirling in ever-increasing spirals. We lock on to one negative thought, that leads to another, and another, and another. Before we know where we are, our worst fears are playing out in our mind as if they are reality, as if they are the only possible route that life can take. We become depressed, not by the real world but by this imagined reality.
We can use mindfulness to help bring us back to the here and now, back to the real world rather than an imagined world of angst and uncertainty. For it is only by addressing this real world, whatever it may hold for us, that we can make decisions and move forward in life. The practice of Mindfulness is a way to shape our awareness and bring positive mental benefits into our lives.
The ‘3 minutes of Mindfulness’ Experiment
Sit, still, and bring your full awareness to your breath, the magical process of breathing in and breathing out, without changing your breathing pattern.
Notice the sensation of the air entering in through the nostrils, how does it feel?
Notice the sensation of the air leaving the nostrils, how does it feel?
Is there a difference? You don’t need to name any difference, simply observe.
Continue the experiment for 10 breaths, and then release your focus from the breath.
Notice how you feel.
For that short period of time, your awareness was entirely focused on the present moment. You were mindful of your breath, the process of breathing in and breathing out. Moment by moment, full attention, completely aware. This is mindfulness.
Not getting lost in our imagination, but being fully present. Not thinking about things that we cannot change, but remaining focused on the now. Not escaping into another world, but being completely in this world. Now.
If your mind wandered, or you caught yourself wondering what the purpose of the experiment was, try it again. And again. And again.
Maybe this short experiment was your first experience of mindfulness. As with all things, practice improves our abilities. You might like to explore ways to improve the experience by creating a peaceful environment, sitting with an alert posture, closing your eyes, following your breath internally down to the diaphragm. However, none of these things is an imperative.
Mindfulness is a state of mind – the other stuff is simply to make it easier to reach that state of mind. Mindfulness can be practiced walking along a busy street just as readily as it can be practiced sitting in a quiet room.
In Dru Yoga, we use the act of bringing the physical movements into tune with the breath to create a wholistic practice as our focus, our awareness, our mindfulness. For many people, combining physical movement with awareness often proves to be a more accessible gateway to the wonderful benefits of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness, in its many guises, has been shown to bring about positive psychological effects.
‘The elements of mindfulness, namely awareness and non-judgemental acceptance of one’s moment-to-moment experience, are regarded as potentially effective antidotes against common forms of psychological distress – rumination, anxiety, worry, fear, anger and so on…..’
(Keng et al. 2011).
Whether it is based on Buddhist tradition or Western medicine & psychology; codified as MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) or simply called mindfulness it doesn’t really seem to matter.
‘Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves…..the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness…..’
(Thich Nhat Hanh 1976)
Choose Mindfulness, Choose Joy
Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where it feels as if all control has been taken from us. Or we have so many choices that we have no idea which way to turn.
Knowing that we have the ability to tune into this calm, mindful state can be immeasurably comforting. By the simple act of being here, now, without judgement, we experience those tiny moments of joy that stitch themselves together to create for us a fuller, richer life.
Founder of DRUVA
Lockdown and weight gain https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/lockdown_health_tips
Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies, Sheng et al
Thich Nhat Hahn ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-miracle-of-mindfulness/thich-nhat-hanh/9781846041068