Mindfulness – a life changing practice?Posted by in mindfulness
How mindfulness changed my life
Mindfulness has changed my life.
This statement might seem a bit grand and profound and yet, this has been my experience.
Mindfulness is by no means a quick fix. Living mindfully is a practice that unfolds and deepens over time and I feel hugely grateful to my first mindfulness teacher for being so inspiring and towards myself for hanging in there.
So, what is mindfulness and how can this 2,500 year-old Buddhist philosophy help us to navigate the ups and downs of day to day living?
Mindfulness is the simple but powerful act of slowing down and paying attention to the present moment without judgement.
Consider Dr Rick Hanson’s analogy of ‘first’ and ‘second darts’. Pain and discomfort, both mental and physical, are part of life and are what Hanson considers ‘first darts’. We can’t control them, they happen to all of us.
Second darts, the ones we throw ourselves, are what get us into trouble. Second darts are our reactions to the first darts. I mess up a job interview and don’t get the job – my first dart. The second darts might include telling myself, I’m such an idiot; why didn’t I prepare better; what am I going to do now, or blaming the interviewer.
The second darts are the judgements we make of ourselves or others in response to the first dart. They can turn a seemingly minor situation into a catastrophe in our minds!
Mindfulness allows us to recognize the first dart, sit with it without judgement and move forward with a thoughtful response.
So how has mindfulness practice changed my life?
Since I was a child I’ve suffered from high levels of anxiety and it manifested in being fearful about many things such as going to school, staying overnight at a friend’s house, going to places on my own, and later during my years at university, I would often experience high levels of anxiety and stress about exams, about studying and earning money, about living with other students and generally about growing up.
Up until about eight years ago, I was experiencing daily life through a veil of anxiety. I always felt slightly overwhelmed by life and carried a nagging sense of ‘too-muchness’. Life felt a bit subdued, a little sad, a bit unsettled, not totally unhappy but also not really happy.
Then I got into mindfulness and meditation (meditation is one out of the many ways of practising and cultivating mindfulness) because intuitively I must have known that there was another way of living, of living more fully and joyfully.
Mindfulness can help us make better choices
Mindfulness teaches us in very practical ways how to pay attention to what’s happening in our thoughts, feelings and body. It can help us to make better choices in how we respond to what’s happening in our life moment by moment, rather than reacting to what life throws at us – which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and despondent.
Mindfulness is thousands of years old and is often spoken of as ‘the heart of Buddhist meditation’, although its essence, attention and awareness, is universal.
It’s also not a particularly clever technique. It’s a life practice or a way of living which we have to learn, just as we learn a new language, to play a sport or an instrument. (Try the mindfulness exercise at the end of this blog).
My mindfulness practice has completely changed the way I live and most importantly the way I experience and engage with my life. And it all began following a friend’s recommendation to take up a mindfulness course.
It’s not that I now live in eternal bliss, not at all. I still experience moments of stress and anxiety, periods of struggle and ‘too-muchness’. What’s changed so dramatically is that I don’t feel that life is just happening to me any more. I now feel that I live my life fully and in a meaningful way. I feel more awake, alive, present and engaged. I have more perspective, I can see possibilities, and I have deeper and closer friendships. I can be with stress and struggles without pushing against them or drowning in them which allows me to stay in charge of my life and to choose the next best step and the next and the next.
Mindfulness can’t be fully understood by merely reading about it, it’s something one has to experience directly – in the physical body, in our emotions, in our thoughts.
To get a taste, try the one-minute meditation at the end of this blog.
Mental Health Awareness Week
Mindfulness is also the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 11-17 May. An initiative established by the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of mental health and well being issues. Check out their website for further information about Mental Health Awareness Weeks and Be Mindful’s 4-week online mindfulness course.
A one-minute meditation that you can do wherever you are with your eyes open or closed:
1. Sit on a straight chair (at home, at your desk, on the tube, on the bus…). Have your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes or just lower your gaze.
2. Focus your attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Stay in touch with the different sensations of each in-breath and each out-breath. Observe your breath without looking for anything special to happen. There is no need to alter your breathing in any way. Just let the breath breathe itself.
3. After a while your mind may wander. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to the breath without giving yourself a hard time – the act of realising that your mind has wandered and bringing your attention back without criticising yourself is central to the practice of mindfulness.
4. Your mind may eventually become calm – or it may not. Even if you get a sense of absolute stillness, it may only be fleeting. If you feel angry or exasperated, notice that this may be fleeting too. Whatever happens just allow it to be as it is.
5. After a minute, let your eyes open, or lift your gaze, and take in your surroundings again.
6. Notice how you are feeling now compared to one minute ago?
(Adapted from Mindfulness, a guide to living well in a frantic world, Mark Williams and Danny Penman)
I offer 1:1 coaching by walking in Victoria Park, team building workshops and mindfulness courses to manage chronic pain and to reduce stress and restore wellbeing. Get in touch for more information and visit www.greenspacecoaching.com for wellbeing tips and mindfulness exercises.
Book a free taster coaching session in Victoria Park Karen@greenspacecoaching.com or call 07815 591 279