Re-discovering daily tasks through mindfulness can lead to a fuller, more successful existence says Valerie Stevenson.
Do you ever get those nights or days when you just can't concentrate because there is a nagging voice reminding you of all the things you haven't done? Or your mind is taking you down an unhelpful spiral of worry and concern because you can't figure out how to solve a problem, often to do with relationships, kids, partners, work colleagues?
We've all been there and for most of us it passes, but there are occasions when these bad days can really bring you down and zap your energy and enthusiasm.
I came across mindfulness a couple of years ago and have had a continuing fascination with its roots and frequent amazement at how it can stop you in your tracks and create those moments of clarity and direction ever since. It often gets confused with being a relaxation technique because of its links with meditation. Although meditation is a core part of the daily practice of mindfulness it is about becoming more aware of what we are doing and feeling in the present moment instead of letting our mind wander into feelings of anger, mistrust and doubt which don't get us anywhere.
After practising mindfulness for a while I realised how mistrustful I had become - I always seemed to be reacting to other people's bad days or emotions rather than just 'letting go'. If it's one thing that mindfulness has taught me it is just to let go.
What a happier, more balanced person I have become!
In today's rushed world we seem to have forgotten so much about the pleasures of life, eating for one. I have always tried to have at least one family meal together during the week and more at the weekends, but they tended to be fairly rushed affairs between getting home from work and getting the chores done or getting the laptop out again to prepare for the next day. I sort of forgot I wasn't just re-fuelling like a car. I learnt that paying attention and using all my senses to focus on what I was eating and encouraging my family to do the same, gave us some real practical benefits like slowing down and not eating when you were full, allowing us to reconnect with our bodies.
The full benefit of practising mindfulness will only be felt if you are prepared to give up some time each day. This is not a practice with a view to getting something right, this is a practice with the intent of experiencing something new from day one of the programme which is usually run in 8-week blocks (one session per week). We all lead busy lives and the thought of setting 30-40 minutes aside each day for formal practice used to defy me but now I wouldn't be without my 'sandpit' moments, particularly as I found out I could practice mindfulness on the train, sitting at my desk or just walking to work. It really has just become part of everyday life.
Actually, the best way I can explain mindfulness is to give you a practical demonstration - try this...
Close your eyes and picture yourself looking out of a window looking across a grey cityscape in the rain - the dullness of the day makes everything seems cold and inhospitable. The roads are clogged with traffic and everyone looks miserable struggling to get to where they have to be.
Then something marvellous happens - the clouds part and the sun shines through and everything seems transformed in an instant. Grey concrete and cold glass turns to burnished copper and the pavements glisten and sparkle in the rain. A rainbow appears and everyone, including you, is smiling at this everyday miracle. For one moment everything seems to stop including time itself - all seems to pause to take in the moment.
This captures the experience of mindfulness.
The cityscape remained the same but when the sun came out you viewed the world differently. Other things can change our mood, like getting ready for a holiday break or taking time away can remove feelings around an argument with a friend. These rely on outside changes which may take some time to come about or might never happen.
Having said that, there is an alternative. It requires our minds to change from problem-solving or 'Doing' mode into 'Being' mode. It takes a shift in perspective and changes your internal landscape and stops your mind's natural tendency to over-think, over analyse and over-judge.
The unpinning principles of mindfulness are very simply, Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Valerie Stevenson, Professional Development Coach