What is Mindfulness?
First of all, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to be mindful (although it helps!)
Mindfulness is the practice of awareness and presence.
Thich Nhat Hahn, a respected Zen teacher gives this thought a perspective –
‘We already are what we want to become. We don’t have to run after anything anymore. We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature. When we do we have real peace and joy.’
It is an obvious truth that the mind will take on the quality of what it dwells on.
Think about the things have filled your mind today. Perhaps difficulties at home or work, a lack of money and time, feeling tired and all the other contributing elements of the troubled times around us.
It takes an effort of will and practice to calm our minds and concentrate them on the present, seeing beyond problems to the growth and strength that results from meeting and overcoming challenges.
The new idea here is that change and progress can be achieved simply by deep awareness, without the need for a lot of mind games.
This flies in the face of many of the cognitive talking therapies that stress self efficacy through will power and mind control.
Awareness helps us to understand the habits and conditioning that we have accumulated and the route to freedom that beckons.
Does it help with stress?
If your mind is cluttered with too many things; if you are constantly striving for things in life; if you neglect to be peaceful and calm – you will end up stressed.
The problem with stress, like growing old, is that it creeps up on you until some of the symptoms demand your notice.
We often delude ourselves that we can cope and drive ever nearer the health breakdown that will never be far away.
Psychologist Connie Lillas uses a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress:
Foot on the gas – An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
- Foot on the brake – A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
- Foot on both – A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralysed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.
Am I in control of stress or is stress controlling me?
When I feel agitated, do I know how to quickly calm and soothe myself?
- Can I easily let go of my anger?
- Can I turn to others at work to help me calm down and feel better?
- When I come home at night, do I walk in the door feeling alert and relaxed?
- Am I seldom distracted or moody?
- Am I able to recognize upsets that others seem to be experiencing?
- Do I easily turn to friends or family members for a calming influence?
- When my energy is low, do I know how to boost it?
Mindfulness cuts right through to the essence of stressless living
It is well established that the relaxation response is at the heart of de-stressing the body and the royal road to the body is breathing, the starting point of all good mindfulness practice.
The following breathing exercise is a powerful, yet simple, introduction to the art of Mindfulness
Mindfulness exercise - The Old Mill
Picture the following scene. You are sitting on a comfortable wooden bench by the side of an old mill on the bank of a river. It is early on a warm spring day and the mill race is smooth as it flows by the warm coloured stone of the mill. The water wheel turns with the flow and the distant creaking of cogs and the rumble of the grinding stone can be heard.
Occasional petals fall on to the path and the water from the abundant apple blossoms on a tree behind you.
Sit in a relaxed position with loose clothing and comfortable surroundings where there is a chance you won’t be disturbed.
Breathe deeply, not the usual wheeze but pushing out your stomach to fully inflate your lungs.
Keep your attention on your breathing, to the exclusion of other thoughts.
It is hard to empty your mind so concentrate on the following phrase –
‘I am breathing in …. hold….I am breathing out….hold.
If thoughts intrude, then imagine them as little soap bubbles floating away. You don’t have to think the thoughts that you could have thought..but let them go.
Do this for a few minutes.
Step 2 – Daffodil
We have lost touch with nature and yet it is always there in the background waiting for us to reconnect. In our overcomplicated world it pays to start with something simple.
Concentrate on the daffodil. It symbolises fresh renewal. If it drew up poisons it would soon die. By allowing the flower’s energy to seep through you poisonous thoughts and desires fade away.
‘I am breathing in nature. …I am breathing out poison’
Clear other thoughts but the daffodil as you breathe gently.
Step 3– The Mill
The Mill was built on old values with huge blocks of stone. It symbolises strength and endurance. This quality is needed to face the stressful world and our own emotional turmoil.
It is the touchstone to rediscover our own strength.
‘I am breathing in strength…I am breathing out weakness’
Step 4 – The Water
The water runs deep and the surface is still and reflects the mill, the apple tree and all the other objects in view, If the surface of the water was disturbed with wind or rain then all the reflective qualities of the water are lost.
Think how turmoil can affect your peace of mind and cause you to overreact to situations. A calm mind reflects not only the surface but also looks below into the hidden mysteries that are the key to a life of progress.
‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Socrates
‘I am breathing in reflective stillness…. I am breathing out turmoil’
Step 5 – Space
Look up into sky and see a single cloud drifting by. How often do we look at the obvious thing and ignore everything else? Consider how much of the universe is space, everything between and betwixt the objects.
Even the solid stones of the Mill are mostly space with a few atoms moving at high speed.
If we only look at the obvious we miss all the other opportunities that are there. True freedom opens up the possibilities that are out there.
‘I am breathing in freedom… I am breathing out restrictions
Using these techniques regularly will reveal a rich inner landscape that is rarely visited. Within there you will find clues to your life’s purpose.