What is Mindfulness, and how can it support you in your everyday life?
What do you think and feel about the ‘practice’ of Mindfulness, or even the word itself? Is it something you relate to, or is it an abstract concept in your mind?
What would you think if I tell you that it is most likely that you actually do practice mindfulness, whether you realise it or not
What IS Mindfulness?
In recent years, the term ‘mindfulness’ has been implanted into our culture in the Western world. It is an ancient philosophy (and a way of being) that has its roots in Buddhism. Mindfulness can be defined in just a couple of words as ‘conscious attention’. It is also often referred to as ‘present moment awareness’.
It can support mental wellbeing, and as a way to get in tune with, and manage our thoughts, emotions and reactions more effectively. Psychotherapists and counsellors have been applying ‘mindfulness’ into their practice with clients long before the concept became part of our every-day vocabulary; and as individuals, we have been inadvertently practicing it too.
What does that mean in practice?
I am a hobby photographer, and I really like cooking too. It’s something I do for fun. If I feel a bit low in mood, or feel under stress or pressure, usually when I start to cook, or go for a walk with my camera, I begin to feel uplifted, more relaxed. Something about having become absorbed in the activity itself, taking me away from the thoughts or feelings I had before, lightens my load, and helps me to feel better.
When I take pictures, I am usually in natural environment. My focus becomes about how I am framing the shot and the exposure itself. Then I think about what my next shot will be, noticing any potential ‘frames’ as I am walking along. My attention could also easily be on the birds flying past, or the colours as the sun goes down, or the ripples in the sea. I often go home feeling relaxed and happy: much better compared to how I felt just an hour or two beforehand. With both activities, there is also often a sense of achievement about what I have created.
What about when we don’t ‘feel’ like doing something that is in our best interests?
Take the thought of doing some exercise – an area many of us struggle with. Personally speaking, one of my aims is to regularly go out for a walk of at least a couple of miles. Despite knowing that it is in my best interests to do this for my general health and is something I usually enjoy, it can sometimes feel like an effort to do it - a sense of discomfort about the thought of it.
I can become consciously aware of this, and then bring my attention my breath and acknowledge any discomfort I feel. I might tell myself that although I feel warm and cosy right now, I will benefit from going out and will likely feel better afterwards. After all, I don't have to be totally comfortable about something to do it!
I can also project my imagination to how I will most likely feel, based on past experience. And whatever happens - whether I get out the door or not - I can always remind myself I am doing my best and be kind to myself regardless!
This is mindfulness in action.
Managing Emotions More Effectively
Getting better at noticing, and becoming aware of our feelings, such as stress, worry, or anxiety – or any difficult feeling that may arise for you, is also Mindfulness.
For example, when we feel anxious, we might feel a rush of adrenaline in our body; this may be experienced by tightness in the chest or butterflies in the tummy. Corresponding thoughts may automatically appear as ‘this is too hard’; or it’s not safe to do this’. We may worry excessively about a situation that we have limited control over; or a future event that may (or may not) happen.
Present Moment Awareness
As mentioned earlier, mindfulness is about present moment awareness. This means noticing our internal states.
We can label the sensations, for example fear, worry and anger, and then perhaps observe our breath, which may be tense and shallow, and actively slow it down. We may then calmly breath into the tension wherever it is in our body, noticing if it changes, or eases in any way.
And perhaps telling ourselves soothing thoughts we know to be true, such as
‘It’s okay, there is nothing to worry about right now’
'This doesn’t HAVE to be perfect – good enough is good enough'
'Although I don't like their behaviour, I cannot control what another person does'
'When I am calmer, I know I will deal with this more constructively'
'I don't HAVE to like something, or feel totally in the mood, to be able to do it' (etc).
Tuning into breath doesn’t work for everybody.
So you could identify other options that could work for you instead, such as drawing, listening to a comforting piece of music or going for a walk.
What might you do, from your own experience, that could help? Check this out with yourself. Think about a time when…
> You had been gripped, or fully absorbed in an activity that you gave your full attention to
> Or became absorbed in an activity which lifted your mood… then noticed you felt better afterwards than you did before
> Or ‘made’ yourself do something that was in your best interests that you didn’t feel like doing
> Or when you managed difficult feelings that resulted in a more helpful outcome
Remind yourself how the activity or your actions supported you. Become consciously aware that it is there to assist you anytime you need it.
I hope that you have got something of interest from this short introduction to Mindfulness. Please feel free to leave comments below.
For more information, please find a few links below to articles and websites that I appreciate.