I’d never heard the word mindful much until my mid-twenties. In fact for me it was synonymous with being careful, something an adult might say when I was learning to ride my bike: Be mindful of other pedestrians when whizzing about on your bike i.e. don’t be a clumsy clot and ride into other people who’ll get mad at you!
No, mindful and mindfulness weren’t in my vocabulary until I was introduced to them as a treatment for anxiety by a cognitive behavioural specialist. Particularly at that time, my unhelpful little mind was operating on a level whereby it was anywhere but where I was. It brought every fear, every worry to the surface, hit me over the head with it, and decided it was essential that everything was under control and safe. And I mean everything. (That’s why I’ve underlined it. Twice.)
The details are not uncommon or interesting. Checking things were off, checking everyone was okay, checking back through the day for wrongs to right. A lot of checking and a lot of everything.
Such behaviour makes anyone feel pretty yucky. There is too much unneeded adrenalin in your system. It makes you kind of sad, kind of fed up, and a little resentful of the fact that you’re not worrying about anything important!
So, mindfulness was one of several things that had a practical application to help with this problem. I was given a CD about mindful meditation, I read up lots on mindfulness and began to practice this idea of very simply being in the moment, forgiving your mind for wandering, then gently pulling it back to the here and now, the real and the tangible.
I was skeptical at first. I mean it sounds a bit wooly, doesn’t it? So, what you’re telling me is, if I sit still, breath a bit, I’ll be cured of worrying and anxiety. Well no. (And not just because there is no cure; I mean imagine being someone who doesn’t feel any anxiety or worry – that’s a whole other kind of trouble!) But, the more I read, the more I realised that this simple idea makes a huge amount of sense in our complex world. The more I thought about it, the more I was inclined to make little changes in my day-to-day behaviour. And the more I tried it, the more I came to see how it could make a fundamental difference to my life.
Because Mindfulness is about being in the moment, slowing down, and noticing what is actually happening and not being all up in your head about what could or might be going on. Revelation! We’re not mind readers, it’s time to stop pretending we are. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and got thinking about all the different ways in which you can practice mindfulness. And so I made (another) list:
1. Take photos
Head out for a walk, or even stay at home, get out your camera and spend time taking beautiful pictures of things that you don’t normally notice. Maybe you’ll notice the crazy pattern on your fruit bowl you never saw before. Maybe you’ll discover a house in your neighbourhood you hadn’t seen before. Maybe you’ll realise you really should clean behind the sofa more often. It doesn’t matter. Connect to where you are and enjoy it.
Exercise has many benefits, including releasing lots of good things that perk you up. Another benefit of exercise is that it encourages you to concentrate on what you’re doing right now and, more specifically, what your body is doing. For example, it’s very hard (and dangerous!) to climb when you’re not focussed on what your body is doing. Yoga, stretching, aerobics, boxercise, dancing, and etc. require brain as much as as body. Push it further, focus on how upright your back is, how balanced you are or even what your little toe is doing. Anything to get your thinking focussed no further away from you than you fingers can stretch.
3. Have a cup of tea
What now? How does one have a mindful cup of tea and what on Earth would be the point in that? Well, one piece of advice I was given after a stressful day was to come home, make a cup of tea, sit on the sofa in silence and just drink the magical cuppa. It sounds ridiculous that this could make any difference, – and probably only something a Brit could come up with – but the point is just take a few minutes off, in peace. Your only job is to enjoy that drink, notice how it tastes, if it needs more milk, less sugar, or if it could really just do with being something stronger (!).
4. Mend or Make Something
Physically contact can be so good for relaxation. Selecting material, noticing how it feels, considering how it will go together with something else – this could be making a card, knitting a scarf, fixing a bike chain, or writing. Whatever it is, give it your full attention and go create!
5. Paint Your Nails
Haha! This might just be specific to me, but since I finally have nails to paint I’ve found it one of the most relaxing things to do. It’s a serious business too; You’ve got to take off the old colour, do a base coat, paint on the colour, follow with top coat all of which need time in between to allow the previous coat to dry. Now, if you don’t take your time, if you don’t think about what you’re doing, you’ll end up with a big smudgy mess. Not cool.
So, no, you don’t have to raid your local cosmetic shop, but you could find something that requires patience and time. Then you could use that time and apply your patience to practice being mindful and see the value of slowing down.
6. Be Mindful of Others
So this has come full circle. Watching out for others, step outside of your own sphere and connect with people is kind of important! It is all too easy to get sucked into your stress, anxiety and worries that you just want to pacify yourself. Stop a second. What about everyone else around you? Look at them for a minute. Are they okay? Kindness and consideration for others is probably the best use of mindfulness.
Want to read more, I like this website/article: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm