“Mindfulness offers us opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and to restore balance in our busy lives”
You can tell that mindfulness is a buzz word when Google returns 40,300,000 hits on a search.
But what exactly is it, how do we get it, and why do we need it?
I remember when I first started work, many years ago, there was talk of how we could all look forward to arriving at a four day working week and enjoying more leisure time. But when we look around now we find ourselves scurrying around in a heightened state of busyness, flitting from one thing to the next and definitely not operating in accord with the suggested attributes of living in a mindful state. Mindfulness is described in many ways but I think it is neatly encapsulated by the definition of being in a ‘state of active, open attention on the present’. This ascribes to mindfulness the ability to apply ourselves specifically not just to one thing at a time, but to examine various aspects and facets of here and now.
Behaving mindfully necessarily precludes too much reliance on the technological advances which we now feel we cannot live without – many of us have become enslaved by what I have heard described as all the I-s; that is the iPhone, iPod, iPad, iWatch, along with the biggest I of all, the Internet. Plus you can now monitor practically every bodily function through Apps and Fitbits and the like.
Is it any wonder that we feel under so much pressure that we are beginning to lose the ability to switch off and be fully in the ‘here and now’?
Our reliance on inanimate, interactive products is not necessarily healthy.
I have a personal watershed on technology as I found that if I was constantly fiddling with my phone or working on the pc into the evening (often whilst the TV was on too), it disturbed my sleep. I now put my phone out of sight by 8pm and never take it up into the bedroom. We retain a landline for emergencies. I still prefer to read a paper book before I go to sleep rather than my Kindle.
I feel too that technology makes us indecisive in the extreme. How often have you seen some hapless person hesitantly shuffling along in the supermarket aisle phone clamped to his or her ear, and heard a one-sided conversation that goes something like this,
“Well I am looking dear, but they haven’t got lamb chops. What shall I get instead. Pork? Chicken? Steak? Burger? Sausages? A veggie option?…Well … you tell me what to get and I will pick it up. I really don’t mind. You choose”
Before mobile phones, we would just have selected something else without the need to confer with anybody.
Other times, you may see someone tearing up and down the aisle whilst in conversation on his/her phone, flinging things in the trolley with little concentration.
Are we slowly losing the ability to stop trying to do so much at once and to focus single-mindedly on one task at a time?
Social arrangements used to be simple, too. When I met with friends before the mobile phone era, I would make a telephone call, say on a Sunday evening, to confirm an arrangement for the following Saturday. We would have no contact in between and would turn up as arranged. Today, people tend to make plans by text and I have become used to exchanges like:
Me: Looking fwd to see you Sat. Where shall we meet?
Friend:You choose, I don’t mind
Me: Shall we say the Oak?
Friend: Oh. Didn’t like that last time
Me: Well, where would you prefer then?
Friend: How about the Cricketers?
Me: Ok, sounds good to me
Friend: Better make it 1300 to be on safe side
Then on the day I get a flurry of messages …
Sorry, running a bit late …
Followed by … just parking. Are you in the pub?
Me: No, I am in the car park. See me? (waving) …!
All this unfocused to-ing and fro-ing via text feels like such a waste of time, it engenders frustration and it is a long way away from mindfulness.
There are many ways to practise mindfulness and it is not difficult to get into the habit of using it as a tool to step away from the stressors in life. The simplest way I have found is to allocate a small amount of time in each busy day to really place myself mentally in the here and now. I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than I need to get up and use those few minutes to focus on the day ahead, to evaluate and steady my breathing and examine how I am feeling. I think about anything that is specifically on my mind and often, useful solutions will present themselves throughout the day.
Techniques for mindfulness abound, ranging from simple breathing focus to yoga, tai-chi and complex courses and classes. Mindfulness offers many processes through which you can still the mind chatter, kick out all the negativity and embrace the positives in your life.
It is interesting that there is a section on mindfulness on the NHS website which neatly sums up simple mindfulness meditation that ‘involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander’. Simple!
I am sure that if we all regularly practised such a modest exercise we would feel far less stressed and anxious about things over which we have no control.
If you were a person who eschews the mobile phone, electronics, the internet, television and perhaps even the radio you would be a very unusual individual, perhaps best described as being akin to the ancient ascetics who lived in self imposed hardship and a constant state of self denial on the negative side, and heightened mindful awareness on the positive.
For the vast majority of us however, mindfulness represents an opportunity, just for a little while, to practise some self-enhancing, simple techniques to take us away from the hurly burly of modern life. The four day week may never have materialised but if we can approach our busy times with mindfulness we should be better able to deal with whatever comes our way.