A beginner’s guide to mindfulness
Imagine you are at home watching an action movie on the TV. There’s a car chase, people shooting at each other and lots of big explosions. The clock is ticking on a massive nuclear device and the end of civilisation is just minutes away.
Despite witnessing the imminent end of the world, you are not really paying attention. Simultaneously you are also thinking about something which happened at work, checking out adorable cat pictures and figuring out what to order for dinner. While the hero is deciding whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire you are busy deciding between Hawaiian and Supreme.
You’ve missed all the excitement. You’ve missed all the suspense. You’ve missed the triumphant moment when the world was saved. You weren’t being mindful at all.
Mindfulness is all about being in the moment.
Mindfulness simply involves being present and bringing your attention to just one thing at a time. This may be your breath. It may be your thoughts. It may even be a big blockbuster action movie.
Mindfulness isn’t just for yogis or Buddhist monks. It needn’t involve marathon meditation sessions or sitting cross-legged. It can be used by all people and applied across all aspects of life.
Mindfulness brings life back to a manageable pace
As a society we’ve become used to packing in as much as possible. We are hyper-stimulated, constantly connected and armed to the teeth with fancy electronic playthings. Our shiny smartphones have taken away many of those small mindful moments, filling the gaps with a steady stream of social media, news feeds, work emails and other distractions.
Despite all this electronic connectivity many of us simply feel disconnected and horribly worn out. Struggling to keep up, we rush, we multi-task and we worry. Practising mindfulness can help you to slow right down and concentrate on what’s really important.
Mindfulness saves you a whole lot of energy.
Life is what’s happening right now, yet instead of being in the present we devote huge amounts of energy to re-hashing stuff from the past or trying to get everything just right for the future. We believe we will finally be happy only when we have the right house, the right qualification, the right partner, the right dress size, the right bank balance etc. etc. etc. Not having it all makes us feel dissatisfied.
Practise mindfulness and you may find you spend far less energy getting worked up over pointless worries from the past or future. Instead you will get to savour what’s happening right now.
Mindfulness teaches you to really experience the good stuff.
When you are totally present and paying attention you are not thinking about all the things you are supposedly lacking. When you are mindfully eating a ripe, juicy mango you are not thinking about your wrinkles, your gas bill or the fact your car needs a clean. You are just really enjoying the mango.
When you are being mindful you will take the time to smell the roses, to listen to the birds or to watch the sunset. All the small joys in life will not go unnoticed.
Mindfulness teaches you to be nicer to yourself.
Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves. We constantly tell ourselves we’re not smart, thin, fit, accomplished or good enough in countless other ways. A key part of learning mindfulness is to learn how to act with far greater self-compassion.
When you let compassion take over from judgement, the voice of that harsh inner critic gradually becomes less urgent and less significant. You can become less focused on all these unhelpful self-criticisms and more at ease with yourself.
Mindfulness may seem awkward, stupid and annoying
We’re not going to sugar-coat it. To begin with, many people find practicing mindfulness a little awkward. When you sit still and start to examine your thoughts you may well notice ones which say “this is stupid”, “this sucks” or “why I am I doing this?” That’s okay. In fact, it’s quite normal.
Like most skills, mindfulness can take a while to get comfortable with. Guided mindfulness exercises come in many different forms, from the very straight-forward to the more visual and imaginative. It helps to try a few to find out which ones you most connect with. Some mindfulness exercises focus on simple breathing and releasing tension from the body. Others may help you to interact with thoughts in a different way or to bring compassion to yourself. After sampling several different mindfulness exercises it’s likely you will discover a few favourites and the initial awkwardness should give way to all sorts of really impressive benefits.
Regularly practicing mindfulness may make you feel calmer, more centred and less stressed. It can improve your ability to focus, bring better sleep and lessen the symptoms associated with a range of mental health conditions. You may even find it helps you to be more joyful, more successful at your job and more connected with your family.
A little awkwardness is a fairly small price to pay for all these potential benefits, so please take the time to try a number of mindfulness exercises and find out what works for you.