Mindfulness - the flavour-of-the-month catch-phrase craze that has everybody talking...walking...breathing...colouring and who knows what else! But what does it really mean and how can you use it in your life? Well, I'm glad you asked.
Let's use Jon Kabat-Zinn's, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, definition to guide us in our conversation.
How do we pay attention on purpose, in the present moment?
Well, it starts with a conscious decision, at least initially, and an awareness about when our mind is tricking us into thinking about the future or the past i.e. NOT the present moment!
Think about it. How often do you catch yourself thinking about everything you need to do after work, or wondering what you're going to eat for dinner, or what will happen if your child decides not to go to university (even though they are only nine-years-old)? As well as worrying/attempting to predict/control the future, we are also pretty good dwellers on the past. Why didn't I say that yesterday, what did my boss mean when he said that yesterday, why didn't I travel overseas before I had children?
We all do it. The only difference is that some of us are better at recognising it and managing it than others.
Why do we need to manage it? Well, have you ever noticed that while you're busy worrying or planning for the next ten minutes/hour/day/week/month/year, you aren't fully paying attention to what the kids are doing, or what your customer is asking you, or to how delicious your lunch is. You miss out on the gorgeous conversation or facial expression, the satisfied customer, and the enjoyment and pleasure of eating your lunch (not to mention better digestion!). Your quality of life, no matter what you are doing, is less.
When you truly consider it, we really can't predict or control what is going to happen from one second to the next. Nor can we change what has happened in the past. The only moment we actually have any control over, is the one we are in. Here and now. So why not hang out in it a little more often. Life's guaranteed to be more pleasant/productive/satisfying if you do.
So back to how we focus our attention.
The simplest method I've found is through what is known as Mindful Grounding. This is where we utilise as many of our senses as we can, to make observations about our external environment. We can also make observations about our internal experiences, but I find it much easier to begin focussing outside of our bodies and minds.
Start by asking and answering these simple questions:
What are five things I can see?
What are five things I can hear?
What are five things I can feel?
What are five things I can smell?
What are five things I can taste?
Your observations can be as basic or as detailed as you like, but I've found that the more detailed they are, the better.
But what about the "non-judgemental" clause in Kabat-Zinn's definition?
Well, it turns out that our thoughts are very closely linked to our feelings. If we judge something as being 'negative', it's likely to influence our emotions in an unpleasant way, and visa-versa. There'll be a post dedicated to the concept later. So you see, it's important for us to remove all judgements and just observe.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to pretend you have just landed on the planet from out of space. You don't yet know if things are good or bad. You are merely open and curious and so make your observations from that standpoint.
For example, at the moment I am looking at my laptop. It has a rectangle screen with a black plastic border and a blue screen highlighting the white page upon which I am typing. I can feel pressure going through the heels of my hands and the smooth square keys under my fingertips. I can hear a soft clicking as I press down the keys and I can see the letters appearing in sequence on the screen, written in black ink. I can smell coffee coming from the red mug sitting to the right of the keyboard. It tastes strong and the cup feels warm in my hands.
What I notice as I make those observations is that I don't make as many typos! Hence, I'm being more efficient. I also notice that my coffee tastes better, especially since I'm holding it in my mouth a little longer to savour the flavour. The other big thing that occurs to me is that there isn't much space to be thinking or worrying about anything else. And you know what? I feel calmer than I did before I began my mindfulness practice.
There are so many mindfulness based resources out there - guided audio soundtracks; mindfulness scripts; activities; and books etc. Check out our "Stuff We Like" page for some links.
Don't forget to let us know when are you at your most mindful?