Now that 2019 is behind us and 2020 is here, I have some thoughts on mindfulness. The word is thrown around all over the place – an overused buzzword littered across magazine covers, flippantly mentioned in interviews and conversations; arguably a ‘new craze’. There are dozens of interpretations of what it really is. If you asked ten different people, you’d likely get ten different answers.
But what does it actually mean? How can you practice mindfulness in your everyday and vastly improve the quality of your life?
My interpretation of mindfulness is quite simple: be here NOW. It’s about getting out of your head and into your body; quieting the noise, perpetual ‘self-talk’, and looping of thoughts from that inner voice. It’s about BEING in this very moment; accepting and embracing that NOW is all there is.
Yeah, yeah. But what does that really mean?
Everything we do in our day-to-day is a means to an end. We’re never thinking about the moment we’re actually in – our brain or mind is always focused on the next thing. The thing after that. Four things down the list. You’re washing your hands but are already thinking about drying them; and being out of the bathroom to do something else like making a coffee. Which you don’t really want to be making – you just want to be drinking it. Every day when you take a shower, are you really in the shower? Are you experiencing the temperature of the water? The feeling of the water running down your skin, how it makes you feel? The rush and change of feelings physically and emotionally as you have that experience? Where are you? Thinking about your day? In your head are you already at work? Or in the car with the kids?
How many times do you ask yourself if you actually did something as you are so used to ‘just going through the motions?’ Did the milk get put away in the cupboard and the car keys in the fridge? How did that happen?
By galloping ahead in our minds about what is going to happen, we never allow ourselves to be truly present in what is happening now.
Constantly seeking that means to an end, that next moment in the future – it never arrives. That moment never arrives because all there is is NOW, the present moment!
You might argue there is the past and future. Yes, of course – the past has happened but is a collection of memories shaped by our experiences and perceptions from that moment. The future hasn’t happened yet. When you think about past and present, when does that happen? NOW.
Practicing mindfulness, just like any other form of practice requires…practice. It’s an awareness you need to exercise, just like any muscle. This practice though, is emotional fitness, awareness and resilience built by learning to be aware of those thoughts that come into your mind, accept them and let them go. A good exercise to work through thoughts that may create a negative spiral is to ask a few questions to yourself:
- Is this true?
- What facts support it being true?
By asking these two questions, 9 times out of 10 you can shut down any negative looping or agonizing you might have over something that you have perceived has happened or is ‘going to happen’.
Meditation is also a great way to practice mindfulness. Again, it gets you out of your head and brings your attention to the simple act of breathing. Even if you’ve never meditated in your entire life and have no idea where to start; there are some great free, affordable apps (Calm, Headspace, etc.) available to help you get started and create a daily practice. If you are interested in diving deeper into these concepts and would like further support, information, coaching and tools; I highly recommend: Waking Up: A Mindfulness Meditation Course (for adults and kids!) with Sam Harris.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to reduce stress, improve quality of sleep and assist in a more enjoyable human experience overall. And let’s be clear, you don’t need an app to meditate. I encourage you to sit for 5 minutes today: close your eyes, breathe (when your mind starts racing bring your attention back to the breathe – and keep doing that as your mind will continue to race), quiet your mind and see where that takes you! Sit in a chair, on the floor – make yourself comfortable.
Another way to bring yourself back to this very moment – is to connect with nature. Go for a walk and take in the wonder and splendour of the natural world around you. Don’t label anything as you see it (there’s a tree)…just experience it. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe. Listen. Your senses will heighten and you will feel a much deeper connection and awareness to this very moment.
There is a good reason why humans seek and crave new experiences and do crazy things. It might be something simple like just trying something new (learning to paint, a new sport, language, food, etc). Or perhaps taking on an extreme physical challenge like a marathon, sailing around the world, mountain climbing, etc. What all of these things have in common is they pull you out of your ‘thinking’ mind into this very moment. The NOW. It’s kind of like that place we used to be in our minds when we were children. Spend some time with a kid and you’ll know what I mean about being present; they are masters of the here and now. Once you’ve had a taste for how exhilarating living in the moment really is, it’s something you’ll work to be present for. Because after all, NOW is all there is!