Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment.
It is touted as being the best thing since sliced bread, in many areas of our lives.
It is promoted for everything from mindful selling, to mindfulness for health, or even as the latest treatment for all our mental health problems.
It has even been suggested as a route to nirvana.
Mindfulness is everywhere. Images of Zen buddhist monks meditating, or of beautiful people, in leotards, at peace on inaccessible mountain tops are in the glissy magazines.
This begets the question; how do we mere mortals, with busy, twenty-first century lives find the time to be mindful?
Research demonstrates numerous advantages for health, both mental and physical, from having a regular mindfulness practice. In an ideal world, given these benefits, we would, of course, all find the time to sit and practice meditation every day.
However, this is neither to everyone’s taste nor is it practicable for many people.
The answer lies in adding mindful moments to our daily routine. There sre many ways to do this.
Some people use a mindfulness app on their smartphone, one that rings a bell randomly throughout the day. This is to remind us to take a moment to be mindful.
Perhaps to take a few deep breaths, and bring ourselves back into the here and now. For many this might be rather too intrusive into our working lives, and another approach might work better.
Making small changes to how we do the routine things in life provides the opportunity for mindfulness practice to become a regular part of our lives.
The habit of ignoring our present moments in favour of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and the world around us.
We all spend much of our lives on some form of mental auto-pilot. We drive our cars and retain little memory of the journey we just completed. If we go somewhere regularly we can find ourselves miles down the road with no recollection of how we got there.
This also applies to our behaviours, and to our habitual responses to events in our lives.
Mindfulness involves paying attention on purpose to what we are doing, and to what is going on around us. Choosing to focus on one particular stimulus, or to be aware of our surroundings in a more free floating way.
We can elect to do this at various points throughout the day.
Getting up in the morning.
First, become aware of the gradual process of waking up, the sensation of light on our eyelids, the slow intrusion of noise, in and around our house, as the rest of the world comes back to life.
The creaking of floor boards, the tick of the air conditioner, the sound of the early morning birds getting ready for a new day.
Become aware of the difference between lying down, sitting on the edge of the bed and standing up. The changr as the floor takes our weight, and the changing pressure as we start to walk.
We can shower mindfully. Changing our normal routine, picking up the shower gel in a different hand, noticing its feel, the weight of the bottle, or perhaps its scent.
The sensation of water on our skin as it starts to run down our back. The noise of water hitting the shower screen and splashing onto the floor. The rough texture of our towel and the subtle changes in the colour of the material as it dries our body.
Taking time to eat meals with appreciation. Feeling gratitude to those hundreds of people around the world that made it possible for us to sit right here, and right now, eating our muesli, porridge, or toast.
Feel the texture of our food as it changes with chewing, the taste and smell and how they too change. The feel, taste, and aroma of our tea or juice in the mouth, and how it changes as we drink it.
Take time to finish one mouthful before cramming another one in, and appreciating our surroundings and companions, if we are not eating alone.
This is challenging environment in which to act with mindfulness.
Listening carefully is a good mindfulness practice.
The general rush and pressure of deadlines and bosses demanding information. We can reduce distraction by answering emails in batches rather than individually as soon as they arrive. We can let our colleagues know when we are not to be disturbed.
When the phone rings, take a few deep, slow breaths to prepare ourselves to listen and respond, in a more relaxed state of mind. Make it a habit to take a couple of slow, mindful breaths before starting to speak. This gives us the space to think about what we wish to say and so respond to what is actually said, rather than what we thought was said.
Listening carefully is a good mindfulness practice. It helps to listen as though we are going to paraphrase what has been said. Make sure that the other person has finished before replying.
Breaking the habit of being a human autopilot can be useful. Try taking a different route, noticing the changes in the environment as we go. Walk, or use public transport occasionally, instead of driving or vice versa.
Switch off our music, or other electronic distractions, and watch the scenery as we travel. Pay attention to our fellow travellers and wish them well, perhaps even talk to them?
Sense the movements of the train or vehicle. Let someone else go ahead of you in the queue and try to lose the sense of urgency that we all feel when travelling to work.
Slow down, smell the roses (or coffee) and smile.
Take the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the day that is coming to an end. Relive the good bits, acknowledge our successes, and put the bad into perspective.
Feel gratitude to those who have shared our day, and for the small acts of kindness we have received, from the smile from the barista in our local coffee shop, to the thoughtful person who drew our attention to the briefcase we nearly left behind, after we had taken our lunch in the park (to be mindful!)
We can watch how our breathing slows and becomes more subtle as we relax into sleep, and aim to become aware of the sensation of dropping off.
There are many opportunities to practice a few moments of mindfulness during the day.
These soon add up, and will start to have a positive effect on our well-being, general health, close relationships and life.
Once we start to practice in this way, we can then decide if a more regular, mindfulness meditation practice is for us.
Blake encourages us all to look beyond the surface and to understand what is really present. How we choose to look, and what we then see, can open up a whole new world of experience and joy
This is something that more and more people are choosing to include as a part of their daily lives.