In my last blog, I referred briefly to mindfulness and how it can help us make the most of our lives on earth. We understand (or at least we’re starting to) the powerful links between the body and the mind; looking after both is vital for the physical and emotional side of life.
But what exactly is mindfulness? How do you know whether you have it and equally, how do you develop and maintain what in my opinion, is quite a skill.
I’m going to make an educated guess here: if you think back to a particularly happy time in your life, it probably wasn’t whilst peeling potatoes, unloading the dishwasher or driving home from work, was it? It was an occasion in which you were 100% engaged – totally “present” in other words. Your wedding day, a party to mark a milestone in your life, or the birth of a precious grandchild.
Most of us are used to living in our thoughts and have developed a habit of being mentally absent from what I’ll call “the now” for most of the time. And it’s a shame. Life brings many daily joys and shows us an abundance of things that we should notice and appreciate.
Mindfulness is about being present, experiencing gratitude, seeing beauty and noticing things. And yes, you can get better at it and you don’t need to be mindful 24 hours a day, either. Here are five simple ways to get started.
- 1. Start small
Do something very ordinary for just a few minutes but really notice what you’re doing. This exercise will start to train your mind and will help you to develop mindfulness in other aspects of your daily life, too.
Try this: choose a routine daily activity and focus on each of the processes that make up the whole. For example, when brushing your teeth, consider each stage. For example, picking up your toothbrush, applying toothpaste, whether you clean your back teeth first, the front ones, etc. How long does it take? How are you rinsing out your mouth with water?
Task two: sit down in a chair. Lower yourself into it gently, listening for any creaks in the wood or upholstery, or the sound that a leather chair makes when you sit in it. What does it feel like as it takes the weight of your body? Don’t forget to pay attention to the new sensation of being seated rather than standing. How does it feel different? Don’t forget to survey the room from the new angle.
- 2. Focus on Now
Quite challenging exercises, aren’t they? The key to mindfulness is focusing on the sensations right now, letting go of previous thoughts and feelings and not worrying about the future. Harder than it sounds, but it really does work.
- 3. Consider your Senses
Focus on aspects of your sensory experience that you normally overlook: the smell of the sea or the countryside, the subtle aroma of a flower, the sound of a storm or the taste of a familiar food.
Once you achieve this, you’ll start to get much more in touch with every day experiences that you tend to tune out.
4. Be Non-Judgemental
When you are practising mindfulness, you’re not looking for solutions or problem-solving. You should observe your present moment with acceptance, openness and curiosity. You are letting go of the need to change or challenge a certain situation and this, in and of itself is a highly liberating feeling. You simply, as the song says, let it be.
- 5. Consider Describing Your Experience
Putting your mindfulness practice into words is a great way to develop this living-in-the-moment skill. Once you adapt to noticing all aspects of the present, describing the qualities of what you see, hear, feel and taste, you’ll be able to experience the moment much more strongly. Just describe how you feel and not what you think you should feel.
We live in a busy world, often too stressed or anxious to savour the pleasures of life as they occur. Developing mindfulness will help you to let go of the past and become less pre-occupied about the future.
Who knows, you may even be able to develop and forge deeper connections with those who love you.
Love is life and life is for living.