When most people think of mindfulness and meditation, they think of a Buddhist monk sitting in silence, alone in a cave somewhere. Enlightenment sounds great in theory, but can seem an impractical goal to commit to in light of the demands of modern life. Luckily, you don’t have to make radical changes to your lifestyle to gain the benefits of mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness and how can it help me?
Most simply, mindfulness is non-judgemental awareness. Sounds simple on the surface, but what does that really mean? In practice it means putting your attention on something and holding an attitude of acceptance towards whatever arises. Mindfulness practice typically involves observing and accepting thoughts, sensations or emotions as they arise. Ultimately, it allows us to develop a capacity to observe our thoughts, emotions or sensations, rather than reacting to them.
Very often the cause of distress lies in our response to a situation, rather than the situation or emotion itself. Very often we resist, and struggle with ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. We get angry with ourselves for feeling anxious. We feel ashamed of our depression. We feel frustrated with our sadness. And we want the situation to change and our bad feelings to go away. Mindfulness can help us to learn to reduce our struggle with our situation and emotions, and find the mute button for our incessant internal chatter. By learning to practice non-judgemental acceptance, we can reduce our stress levels and learn to enjoy our lives more. Many people find that regular mindfulness practice frees up reserves of energy that they had been using in worry and rumination… and helps them to reconnect with themselves. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t prefer things to be a different way, or that we shouldn’t take steps to create changes in our lives for the future, just that at this moment we can accept things as they are.
Practicing everyday mindfulness
Everyday mindfulness is, as the name suggests, mindfulness of the everyday. Choose a daily activity such as brushing your teeth, eating a meal, even folding the laundry. Slow down and focus on every aspect of this activity. If you’re brushing your teeth: notice the weight of the brush in your hand, the smell of the toothpaste as you squeeze it on the brush. Notice the feeling of the brush up against your teeth, and the taste of the toothpaste in your mouth. Slowly move the brush across your teeth, and notice how it feels.
At some point, you’ll no doubt also notice your mind making comments (“Why am I doing this?”) or just wandering (“I’ve got to remember to get milk on the way home”). As you’ve probably guessed, the purpose of the mindfulness exercise isn’t to perfect the process of cleaning your teeth, it’s about training your mind to observe rather than to judge, comment or be distracted. So whenever you notice your mind wandering, simply acknowledge that to yourself by gently saying “thinking, thinking” and bring your attention back to what you’re doing.
Everyday mindfulness practice need only be for a few minutes everyday. Regular practice helps to hone your capacity to pay attention to experiences in your life, and to be present without judgement. It also helps you to become skilled at letting go of unhelpful thoughts that typically arise when we’re stressed (the thoughts that stop you sleeping) or depressed (the thoughts that keep you stuck and de-motivated).
Practice everyday mindfulness and notice yourself getting less caught up in the inner turmoil that accompanies difficult emotions, and experiencing greater joy and wellbeing.
Simone Eyssens is a qualified Melbourne psychologist with over 10 years experience. She specialises in working with anxiety, depression and trauma, utilising mindfulness-based approaches to help her clients reclaim their lives and feel better. To find out more about mindfulness, visit her website: http://www.simoneeyssens.com.au