‘Yoga is cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.’ —Patanjali
Meditation can bring space to the busy, over-stimulated mind. The repeated discipline of sitting and observing the movements of our mind and our body sensations can bring respite from the constant bombardment of our thoughts and provide us with a little peace and clarity in a chaotic world.
Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word in the West as our governments and healthcare providers look to Eastern philosophy to counteract the perils of our fast-paced living. Mindfulness and meditation are synonymous, but it can be useful to view them as a little more distinct. Mindfulness can be thought of as ‘on the go’ meditation; a type of meditation that can be applied in everyday situations and circumstances. Meditation can be viewed as a more formal sitting practice; it is invaluable in training and disciplining the mind to rest, and in bringing our inherent wisdom into our conscious awareness. A wisdom that shows us a way to exist that isn’t governed by our conditioned patterns of behaviour that so often trip us up and prevent us from realising our true potential.
Mindfulness can be applied to every moment of our lives. It is simply being aware in the present moment. When we are aware in the moment, we aren’t letting our mind run riot thinking about and analysing moments past or moments to come, which is the foundation of regret, anxiety, guilt, worry, resentment and self-doubt.
‘In the present we can never have problems, just situations.’ —Eckhart Tolle
When we are mindful in moments that are pleasant, we are content in just being with that feeling — really feeling it and living it fully. When we are mindful in moments of challenge, we deal with things to the best of our ability, preventing the unnecessary negative commentary of berating ourselves and others that often follows.
Mindfulness allows us to be simply our best selves without judgement while we experience the colours of life as they unfold.
Most of life is neither pleasant nor unpleasant: it is fairly neutral. It is in these neutral moments that the majority of our training can take place. This teaches us to notice the beauty of life when it’s right in front of our face, and to notice challenge before we are overcome by it.
Listed below are my top three tips for applying mindfulness throughout the day. These small practices can lead to insight into how the mind operates and how all too often, the mind is leading us like the tail wagging the dog. Over time, when a little space begins to occur between thought, these techniques shine light on the ‘mundane’ moments of life, which helps us to realise that we hold the key to our happiness — a happiness that comes from within, a happiness that is not dictated by our life situation.
It is useful to notice how most of our life occurs in our head. We get caught up in our storylines of obsessive thought. Mindfulness cuts through this by directing our attention to what is unfolding here and now. The mind will always want to be busy, so why not be its pilot and direct the busyness where it is useful?
How to be here now
The following techniques give us the space to experience life as it unfolds. The key to mindfulness is to always watch our experiences of mind with a level of care for ourselves, without judging what we feel, hear, see and think. Like a child observing the world through fresh eyes, we allow ourselves to experience life with curiosity and intrigue.
1: Use the repetitive elements of your day to direct your awareness to exactly what it is you are doing
Brushing your teeth: Feel the bristles, taste the toothpaste, hear the sound of the brush on your teeth. Monitor the speed and force of your brushing. This is a wonderful opportunity to remind yourself to take life slowly and to soften in your interactions with people throughout the day.
Walking: Feel the sensations beneath your feet, the softness of carpet or hardness of floor. The feeling of rolling from the heel to the ball of your foot. Breathe in on one step and out on the next. When outdoors, this can be extended to incorporate all your senses: the smell of the environment, the colours, the sounds, the sights.
Listening: As Catherine Fenwick states, ‘It takes more than ears to really listen.’ All too often we listen with limited effort, spending most of the time considering what we may say next or internalising the other person’s experience. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone, and really listening is a mindfulness technique that requires us to listen with our eyes and our hearts. When we watch the movements of those we are talking to, and when we feel the energy in their words, we hear so much more. When we look into the eyes of someone, we may really understand what they are trying to convey. When we listen with complete awareness, we have come out of own heads and into the world and we absorb the moment.
Eating: For a culture that spends so much money on food, we sell ourselves short on experiences and miss some real pleasures that come free! Mindful eating occurs when you slow down and savour every bite. Chewing your food thoroughly and taking the time to identify the different flavours and consistencies not only keeps your mind focused, it aids digestion. All too often we eat in a rush, on the go, with no respect for the ritual of eating. When we observe tastes, flavours and the colours on our plates, we may experience a wonderful sense of gratitude for the nourishment and enjoyment that mealtimes bring.
2: Use the breath
The breath is a tool for mindfulness that is ever-present, always at our disposal and completely individual — nothing else is required. The breath, its speed and depth, can tell us a lot about our inner experience. When we learn to calm the waves of the breath, our minds follow. Deep breathing into and from the lower belly activates our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest response), bringing a sense of calm to the mind. In addition, monitoring the breath just as it is, with no effort to change it, brings the mind to one focus and redirects our awareness from the random mind that flits here and there. Following the waves of our breath can be done anywhere: in a meeting, in the car, during seated meditation, when we wake and before we sleep. It is our most valuable tool in our mindfulness toolkit.
3: Simply observe the sensations and feelings of your emotions
Our minds are like rainbows: all colours. As humans we are subjected to constant change. The only thing consistent in an inconsistent world is awareness. Awareness of the inconsistencies! A myriad of emotions and feelings occurs throughout our day. To know what we are feeling, as we are feeling it, not only allows us to understand ourselves better, it also gives us the opportunity to anchor into the moment.
This is very different from following the waves of thought: we think less and feel more.
We can bring our awareness to the feelings and sensations of our emotions. Anger, for example, may manifest as a heat, a tightness in the chest. Love may manifest as a sense of lightness, a sense of being enveloped in care. We don’t really have to do anything other than watch and, more importantly, allow without judgement whatever feelings we have to show themselves. When we watch, we aren’t acting them out. When we watch, we insert a pause between experience and action; we mindfully respond instead of react. The body is like a map for the mind: if we allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling without trying to tuck it away or resist, we will find our way back to peace.