Stop right now…
Be utterly still.
drop in on yourself.
No right or wrong, good or bad,
just tune in…
We know innately that everything we ever need can be found within each of us: the resolve to any physical ailment, internal conflict, or emotional upset is within us – if we just tune in we’ll find it. Unfortunately, pretty early on in life we pattern unhelpful behaviours and thoughts, and get pulled into action-packed, fast-paced living where outward reflection is celebrated and encouraged, and intelligent inward-looking is starved and devalued. Sadly this inability to look inward means we tend to never address feelings of stress, anxiety, shame, guilt, fear and sadness until they manifest themselves into pain and illness so that we can no longer ignore them.
Reasons why we struggle to slow down and go inward:
1) It isn’t recognised as valuable. We are taught to cultivate and be aware of only 5 senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. There are many, many more senses that need equal attention. What about proprioception? Our sense of where our arms and legs are in relation to the rest of the body is essential in strengthening our co-ordination and body-brain communication. What about gut feeling? Our gut has more neurons than our brain and is passing on an incredible amount of useful information – but can we tap into the messages? And how about magnetorection – our natural sense of direction? What’s the point in tuning into this when we can just use Google Maps huh?
2) We are desensitized and numbed by the overwhelming amount of fast-paced stimulus thrust in our every direction. How often do you sit quietly without watching TV, looking at the internet, checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, listening to music, reading a book, talking… when we are always occupied with external stimulus we lose touch with what’s happening inside.
3) We take most of our cues from our brain – an organ that literally runs on programs that were set predominantly in childhood (and often out of fear). Just as we need to update our computer software, so too do we need to reprogram our unhelpful brain patterns. Next time you are stressed just notice what your response is… time for a drink? Food binge? Or perhaps time to yell at your spouse or wreck yourself at the gym, clench your jaw or tighten your shoulders? These repeated responses which attempt to give momentary “relief” by numbing, covering up or ignoring the real issue, only strengthen and loop negative brain pathways. Bringing awareness to these destructive responses helps give you space to identify triggers and program more nourishing behaviours.
4) We give up ownership of our body and problems to medical practitioners and drugs. How about building relationships with practitioners who work ‘with’ the body and help the body realize its healthy direction. Ensure that you are guided, educated and part of the healing process – ask questions, tune into your responses, give feedback… know yourself and own your well-being.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an activity of attention. Normally you sit in a comfortable, quiet place, close your eyes and purposely focus your attention on your breath and on the present moment – accepting all that arises without judgement.
Sitting there you want to bring awareness to the now, notice what’s going on – attend your life. Inevitably when left to itself the mind races through all kinds of thoughts, this is totally normal. When you find your mind wandering just return to your breath and to being the “watcher” of those thoughts – attending is more important than what you are paying attention to. Uncomfortable emotions can arise such as fear, anger, resentment, guilt and shame but you can find the courage to watch them take their course instead of being skipped past or buried. Trust that in doing so they will dissolve and be replaced with new patterns that are better aligned with your true self: with continued practice you will quiet the mind and slip into the space between thoughts, the space where you can reclaim your life.
Mindfulness and cultivating attention helps you to:
- Savour the pleasures in life – become fully engaged in activities and truly notice what makes you feel good
- Be in a wiser relationship with yourself – to better gauge and trust what is going on, rather than to be at the mercy of irrational fears and thoughts.
- Bring clarity to what is and is not working for you in your life – choices related to relationships, work, health, environment are more aligned with your truth making decisions easier
- Redirect negative brain patterns and encourage more positive and nourishing behaviours
- Focus on the here and now – making you less likely to get caught up in worrying about the future or regretting the past, less preoccupied with success and self-esteem and better able to form deep relationships with others.
Of course there are many proven physiological benefits also, such as:
- lowered blood pressure
- reduced stress
- balanced hormones
- chronic pain reduction
- improved sleep patterns
- improved digestion
- better management of mental imbalances such as OCD, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and addiction
Tips on practising mindfulness
- Find a time that works each day that you can commit to. Morning and middle of the day are great, and before bed can also be a good time to wind down if you are a wired type!
- Start with just 5 minutes and if that passes easily then see if you can make it to 20 minutes each day – this would be ideal!
- Choose a comfortable quiet place to sit or lie – close your eyes, maintain length in your spine, rest your arms wherever comfy
- Start by following and watching your breath – don’t change your breath pattern, just watch it
- When your mind wanders, when thoughts, emotions, sounds or physical feelings occur just acknowledge them and let them pass without getting involved and come back to your breath
- Practise simply being mindful throughout your day – before you send an angry email, while speaking in a meeting, before beating yourself up about a mistake you’ve made, whilst feeling pain or sadness… stand back from the thoughts, breathe, give yourself space to simply watch. Then respond authentically in the moment guided by fresh, honest thoughts that only act to serve you well.
When you enter deeply into this moment, you see the nature of reality, and this insight liberates you from suffering and confusion. Peace is already there to some extent: the problem is whether we know how to touch it – Thich Nhat Hanh
To learn more please watch this great talk by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. Other great experts on mindfulness are Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Gabrielle Bernstein.