The following is my version of a post my brother sent to me recently about Mindfulness, originally posted on The Huffington Post and adapted by me:
Here are things mindful people actually do every day to stay calm, centered and attentive to the present moment.
They take walks.
"In our culture of overwork, burnout, and exhaustion, in which we're connected and distracted 24/7 from most things that are truly important in our lives, how do we tap into our creativity, our wisdom, our capacity for wonder, our well-being and our ability to connect with what we really value?"
Arianna Huffington asked in a 2013 HuffPost blog post
Her answer: Solvitur ambulando, which is Latin for "it is solved by walking." Mindful people know that simply going for a walk can be excellent way to calm the mind, gain new perspective and facilitate greater awareness. And it's Free!
They turn daily tasks into mindful moments.
Mindfulness isn't just something you practice during a 10-minute morning meditation session. It can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you're performing them.
As the meditation app Headspace puts it:
"Mindfulness starts to get really interesting when we can start to integrate it into everyday life. Remember, mindfulness means to be present, in the moment. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not while out shopping, drinking a cup of tea, eating your food, holding the baby, working at the computer or having a chat with a friend? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness, to be aware, to stay in the present moment."
Mindfulness and creativity go hand-in-hand: Mindfulness practice boosts creative thinking, while engaging, challenging creative work can get you into a flow state of heightened awareness and consciousness.
Many great artists, thinkers, writers and other creative workers -- from David Lynch to Mario Batali to Sandra Oh -- have said that meditation helps them to access their most creative state of mind.
If you want to become more mindful but are struggling with a silent meditation practice, try engaging in your favorite creative practice, whether it's baking, doodling, or singing in the shower, and see how your thoughts quiet down as you get into a state of flow.
They pay attention to their breathing.
Our breath is a barometer for our overall physical and mental state -- and it's also the foundation of mindfulness. As mindful people know, calming the breath is the key to calming the mind.
Meditation master Thich Nhat Hahn describes the most foundational and most effective mindfulness practice, mindful breathing, in Shambhala Sun: "So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath." (See my own page on Mindfulness for more about breathing)
Multitasking is the enemy of focus -- many of us spend our days in a state of divided attention and near-constant multitasking, and it keeps us from truly living in the present.
Studies have found that when people are interrupted and dividing their attention, it takes them 50 percent longer to accomplish a task and they're 50 percent more likely to make errors.
"Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention,"
Real Happiness at Work author Sharon Salzberg writes in a Huffington Post blog. "Debunking the myth of multitasking, we become much better at what we do and increase the chance of being able to remember the details of work we have done in the past."
The mindful way, Salzberg suggests, is to focus on one task completely for a given period of time, and then take a break before continuing or moving on to another task.
They know when NOT to check their phones (or play on Ipad's, computers, etc).
Mindful people have a healthy relationship with their mobile devices and know when to use them and when to turn them off or leave them alone.
This might mean making a point never to start or end the day checking email or maybe even keeping their smartphones in a separate room while they're sleeping, or choosing to unplug on Saturdays or every time they go on vacation. Especially important, not using phones, checking texts or playing games when you really should be listening and chatting to the other people in the room who came to see you!
One unfortunate by-product of tech addition and too much screen time is that it keeps us from truly connecting with others -- as HopeLab CEO Pat Christen described her own aha moment, "I realized several years ago that I had stopped looking in my children's eyes. And it was shocking to me."
Those who mindfully interact with others look up from their screens and into the eyes of whomever they're interacting with, and in doing so, develop and maintain stronger connections in all their relationships.
They seek out and embrace new experiences.
Openness to experience is a by-product of living mindfully, as those who prioritize presence and peace of mind tend to enjoy taking in and savoring moments of wonder and simple joy. New experiences, in turn, can help us to become more mindful. "Adventure can naturally teach us to be here now. Really, really here," adventurer Renee Sharp writes in Mindful Magazine. "To awaken to our senses. To embrace both our pleasant and our difficult emotions. To step into the unknown. To find the balance between holding on and letting go. And learn how to smile even when the currents of fear are churning within."
They get outside.
Spending time in nature is one of the most powerful ways of giving yourself a mental reboot and reinstating a sense of ease and wonder. Research has found that being outdoors can relieve stress, while also improving energy levels, memory and attention.
“We need the tonic of wildness," Thoreau wrote in Walden. "At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
They feel what they're feeling.
Mindfulness isn't about being happy all the time. It's about acceptance of the moment we're in and feeling whatever we feel without trying to resist or control it.
Excessive preoccupation with happiness can actually be counterproductive, leading to an unhealthy attitude towards negative emotions and experiences.
Mindful people don't try to avoid negative emotions or always look on the bright side -- rather, accepting both positive and negative emotions and letting different feelings coexist is a key component of remaining even-keeled and coping with life's challenges in a mindful way.
As Mother Teresa put it, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
We have a natural tendency to avoid sadness and crying, for example. This stops us from getting past grief. When we see someone else crying our natural tendency is to want them to stop crying and tell them everything is going to be ok. Mindful people know that it is ok to feel what we feel and to stay with others as they feel what they feel.
(Interestingly, I think we often stop others from crying, not to make them feel better, but to make ourselves feel less uncomfortable. Good friends cry with those who cry).
They're conscious of what they put in their bodies -- and their minds.
So often, we shovel food into our mouths without paying any attention to what we're eating and whether we feel full. We ignore discomfort, hoping it will go away, even when it clearly won't. Some use alcohol, drugs, even porn, to numb what they feel.
Mindful people make a practice of listening to their bodies -- and they consciously nourish themselves with healthy foods, prepared and eaten with care. But mindfulness is all about taking your time, paying attention to the moment, focus fully on what is happening and how they physically feel.
Mindful people also pay attention to their media diets, are equally careful not to feed their minds with "junk food" like excess television, social media, mindless gaming and other psychological empty calories. (Too much time on the Internet has been linked with fewer hours of sleep per night and an increased risk of depression.
I believe that each of us know exactly what we do that is unhealthy and we do it anyway. Maybe it is time to embrace a more mindful and healthy way of living.
They remember not to take themselves so seriously.
As Arianna Huffington writes in Thrive, "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly."
A critical factor in cultivating a mindful personality is refusing to get wrapped up and carried away by the constant tug of the emotions. If you can remember to laugh and keep an even keep through the ups and downs, then you've come a long way already in mastering the art of mindfulness.
Much of our distraction is internal -- we ruminate, worry and dwell on our problems. But those who are able to maintain a sense of humor about their own troubles are able to better cope with them. Research from the University of California Berkeley and University of Zurich found that the ability to laugh at oneself is associated with elevated mood, cheerful personality, and a sense of humor. Laughing also brings us into the present moment in a mindful way. Joyful laughter and meditation even look similar in the brain, according to a new study from Loma Linda University.
They let their minds wander.
While mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment, mind-wandering also serves an important psychological function, and conscientious people are able to find the happy medium between these two ways of thinking.
It’s smart to question whether we should always be living in the moment. The latest research on imagination and creativity shows that if we're always in the moment, we're going to miss out on important connections between our own inner mind-wandering thoughts and the outside world. Engaging in imaginative thinking and fantasizing may even make us more mindful. Research has found that those whose daydreams are most positive and most specific also score high in mindfulness.
Nightmares can be truly horrible and waking from one can leave you feeling very shaking and vulnerable. Trying to banish the pictures in your head of what has been happening in your dream can be very hard.
Grounding techniques can be helpful in bringing you back to the real world, for nightmares, anxiety attacks, panic attacks.
Put on a light. Try to get out of bed and put something warm on if you feel shivery. Make a hot drink and sit somewhere safe and comfortable. As you sip your drink say out loud your name, where you are and tell yourself you are safe.
Look round your room and identify familiar objects. Your pictures on the walls, a favourite ornament, a special soft toy, which you may want to pick up and cuddle.
If there are still images in your head that you don’t want to be there tell them out loud to go away and immediately focus on something very familiar in your room.
Put down your drink, place your feet firmly on the floor, hold the arms of your chair, or clasp your hands in front of you, and physically feel the floor with your feet and feel the arms of the chair, or one hand grasping the other. Achieving this will literally “ground” you in the here and now.
Now try to focus on your five senses;
SEEING – look around you and say out loud five objects that you can see – maybe a picture, a bedside rug, a vase of flowers, your curtains, and a clock.
HEARING – Maybe you can hear your own breathing, a clock ticking, birds beginning to sing outside, a familiar creak of floorboards, a car in the distance
TOUCHING – the softness of one hand against the other, the fabric of your chair, the material of what you are wearing, the warmth or coolness of your skin, the hardness of a wooden table.
SMELLING – any scent you might be wearing or soap you have used, the detergent you have washed your clothes in, maybe a cigarette if you are a smoker, any flowers that are in your room (leaves too have a distinctive smell), furniture polish
TASTING – the saltiness of your own skin, the trace of toothpaste in your mouth, the drink you have made yourself, imagine the taste of your favourite food, the cold taste against your tongue of the by now empty mug.
All the above are only suggestions – you will find your own “five senses”. This will take as long as it takes. There is no time scale. Everyone is different. Like anything else it takes practise. We are all individuals.
When you feel strong enough to return to bed tell yourself very firmly that you will not have that bad dream again. If it does visit you again, don’t blame yourself – it is NOT YOUR FAULT
Mindfulness: the art of staying in the present moment and using all of your senses to fully experience it ...
Abbey Park in Leicester is one of my favourite places, even though I have been going there since I was a little kid. On this particular occasion I challenged myself to combine my trip to Abbey Park with a gentle practice of mindfulness. This is the somewhat mixed and brilliantly imperfect result :
- The car park stinks of petrol and there is a beautiful contrast of old walls and ruins against new cars and gates
- The feel of several hundred years of ruins and rocks under my feet, making me keep my balance as I walk along the ruined walls as I have done since I was little
- The breeze, gentle and refreshing on such a warm day. Wonder what it would have been like being a monk six hundred years ago or more?
- Occasional people, smiling, happy, relaxed, some with dogs, a particularly big dalmation, small boy on a bike being noisy and energetic. others, in the distance, colourful, moving
- Feeling the bread in my hands, deliberately smelling it and there tearing it to pieces to throw to the ducks, now clamouring round, flying into the air for a scrap of bread. The noise, the flapping of wings, the sudden activity
- The water, calm again, covered in grey green lichen, sun reflecting off the water, grass beyond. Greys and greens and white of ducks and swans at rest. Green grasses overgrown all around the edges.
- Crossing the bridge, a father (possibly) lifting his son up to look over the edge of the bridge into the water. Some people and a dog coming up the other way, talking. One boy at the back looks left out and sad.
- The herb garden. I stroll gently towards the rosemary, my favourite herb. Huge strong rosemary bushes even in the hot weather. Rubbing the rosemary between my palms, roughly, and then inhaling the smell
- The Lavender Maze. What rosemary is to smell, lavender is to sight, a carpet of beautiful purple and lilac.
- It is 12.30 so I know the train is open. I wander across the edge of the river, overhanging trees, greens, browns, autumn is starting to show in the huge variety of greens
- Riding on a small miniature steam train in Abbey Park. Feeling the breeze. Smelling the trees and undergrowth, the colours. Occasional whiff of petrol or diesel. Round and round we go.
- The Chinese Garden, a bad zen mock-up, meant to be a peaceful retreat, but now too overgrown, sad, covered in bird shit. Mindfulness is about not making judgements, but I think this is sad and unnecessary. Even this is an experience.
- The boats next. Excited, I like the boats. Feeling the boat sink a little as I get in and then paddle away. Relaxing and hard work at the same time. Casual pace. Shoulder still hurts.
- Sun very hot on the lake. Islands of overgrown trees and dirt. The spray of the water fountain in the middle as i paddle as close as I can. A family of ducks, one big, the rest tiny, following on. The water on the seat making my bum wet.
- The feel of bark on the old tree
- The crowded noise and activity of the cafe. Hand tight in pocket, grabbing change. Holding the icecream, moving back through people to get outside. Old black and white pictures on the wall, new slot machines on the floor.
- Icecream, chocolate mint, green and brown, light to the touch, refreshingly cold against my teeth, holding the icecream in my mouth, letting in melt, really tasting it. Listening to the crunch of the cornet as I bite into it. All gone.
- Back to the car with a sigh, past cricket players on the large field, green and brown. Beyond, the children's playground, with glimpses of red painted fencing and tall rope pyramid.
Just a glimpse. Of course I wasn't mindful all the time. Just at certain times when I saw something or when I remembered to try and be mindful and pay attention to what I was doing. The rest of the time my mind wandered all over the place, just like my legs.
Still, it was a nice peaceful way to spend a couple of hours.
One of the best and most useful things I have learned this past year has been MINDFULNESS.
Have you ever felt that life is just too damned busy. Sometimes it just seems to race by and before you know it, another birthday, gone. Another year, gone. Another friend, gone. Another bill to pay ... Another job to do ... on and on and on ...
And life is so busy. If we're not worried about something that's going to happen we are worried about something that has already happened.
What will my boss say?
How will I cope?
What will x, y or z think when they find out?
Was I OK? Did I say the right thing? Why do I get everything wrong?
And on and on it goes.
Sometimes we just need to stop.
That's where Mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness (to me) is about stopping and, as they say, smelling the coffee. Taking time out of your day, your business, those chaotic thoughts, the demands others keep making on you and pressing the pause button.
Listen to your breathing
(If you can't hear it or feel it you don't need a therapist, you need a doctor!)
Spend a few moments listening to your breathing.
Relax your shoulders. Close your eyes if you can and just feel your breathing.
In and out, nice and slowly, nice and easy, just breathe.
Before long your mind will start thinking about something else.
Don't worry about it, just gently recognise it and bring your focus back to your breathing.
Again your mind will wander. Don't judge or criticise yourself.
Just gently recognise the thoughts and bring yourself back to focusing on your breathing.
(Now if you're working or in the middle of something, that may be all you have time for. That's OK. Try just that, a few times a day. But if you have more time then continue with what follows).
As you continue with gentle breathing, eyes closed, gently begin to feel where your feet are, what your legs are touching, how your stomach feels, your back, your neck. Relax your shoulders.
Focus back on your breathing.
Mindfulness (and this is only an introduction) has so many benefits:
- It can help us to stop being busy and pause to reflect
- It can help us to feel how we really feel (which surprisingly we don't always do!)
- It can be a huge proven help with depression, anxiety and panic attacks
- It can help us to stop worrying about the past or the future and focus on now
- It can help us to genuinely stop and see the world around us with fresh eyes
Here are some other ideas:
Try and stop for a few minutes. Listen to your breathing and then slowly focus on each of your five senses one at a time.
It may seem strange but we often see things without even noticing them. Take time to really look, look at the colours, the shades, see the beauty that we so often take for-granted. Go for a walk with no other agenda but to really look at what is around you.
What can you smell? So often in the city we don't even smell the pollution or petrol because it's there all the time.
Take a small chocolate. What does it feel like in your hand? Does it weigh anything? Feel the inside of your mouth, do you feel the saliva. What does it feel like to swallow? Place the chocolate in your mouth. What does it actually taste like? As it stays there, are there different tastes? Bite into it. What does it feel like? Does the taste change.
Light a small candle. Sit and watch the flame, how it dances and moves. Look at the colours. Put your hand near enough to feel the warmth. What memories does it bring. How do you feel?
When you sit to eat something, try and eat slowly and taste each mouthful (this takes alot of practice, so just try a minute or two to start with). We so often eat whole meals without really pausing to taste what we are eating.
And, without being creepy, take time to casually look at people's faces, every one so incredibly different. See what makes them them. What kind of eyes do they have (don't try and put words to it, just experience it). What makes them unique?
These are just a few ideas. Experiment. Have fun, and above all, don't get stressed trying not to be stressed.
Regards and Love