“The intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”
Unless you’ve been living under a fossilised rock in exile for the last year you’ve probably heard of Mindfulness. The new Pilates of the wellbeing world, Mindfulness is a practice lauded by not only celebs but mere mortals the world over. And for very good reason.
For those who have been in exile, Mindfulness is a form of meditative practice; an integrative, mind-body training informed by exercises and techniques from yoga, meditation and breathing. Mindfulness involves focusing your body and mind on the present moment, allowing yourself to become aware of thoughts and emotions without forcing or trying to alter them. Mindfulness is effectively doing ‘nothing.’ But by doing ‘nothing’ becoming greater attuned to the subtleties of your own mind and body so that you may fully experience those sensations and shifts. Rather than being solely constrained to a silent, stationary setting you can practice Mindfulness pretty much wherever you are just by fully inhabiting your present mind. By using deep breathing and expressing gratitude for all that you have and feel you can reduce the impact distractions and stress have on your daily wellbeing. It is ‘living in the moment’ in it’s truest sense.
So why am I talking about Mindfulness if it is effectively ‘doing nothing?’
Because i’m a paid up, fully fledged, certified raving fan of it. I’d shout about it from the rooftops if I didn’t have a mid-block flat and a mild fear of heights. And I want Mindfulness to march into your life, hurl you over its sexy zen shoulder and ride away with you to Inner Peace on its great white stallion just like it did with me. Because in fast paced city life very rarely do we take the time to really appreciate all that we feel, have and experience. Infinitesimal details, flickers of emotion, expressions of anxiety can pass us by. Sometimes this means we can lose out on the opportunity to cherish tiny wonderful moments and sometimes this means we may not fully process negative feelings. And Mindfulness has helped me to combat this and become far happier despite all my sceptic’s efforts to prove otherwise.
I’ll say at this point that we don’t just want people to come to our workshops at Antidote, we want to help lead them towards a happier life. One filled with positive connections, windows of opportunity to escape the stresses of inner city life. And because we really believe in always striving for happiness and helping others to do this too. We are constantly reading, researching and actively hunting down ideas and opportunities in the pursuit of happiness. Mindfulness is a practice we came to through this research and one I felt obliged to bang on about so that you may, just may, take happiness from it too.
I’ll now address what I shall call, ‘The Mindfulness Misconceptions,’ as I understand fully how to many Mindfulness seems like an esoteric, new-age construct. Something for the incense-burning, naked jasmine tea sippers among us (….ok… so…I’m partial to a jasmine tea and being in the buff) but I also firmly believe everyone can take something, however small, from the Mindfulness school of thought.
“You can only practice Mindfulness in complete silence, atop a hillside, cross-legged.” Categorically untrue. The wonderful thing about Mindfulness is how accessible it truly is. You can practice it munching your BLT, on the No 214. Start by STOPPING LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply focusing on how the air fills and feels in your body, and exhale. Now let those thoughts come and go like waves. See how you’re a little calmer and more centred? You’re on the road to Mindfulness already pal.
“Mindfulness is only for Buddhists (and Hugh Jackman.)” Practicing mindfulness is nothing to do with practicing religion. It’s about connecting with your present mind, not about connecting with a higher or spiritual being. (But if your mind connects with that too then that’s totally fine.)
“Mindfulness is going into a trance.” Nope. No sirree. A trance is a state of absence of response to external stimuli, or a mental blankness. Essentially the very opposite of mindfulness, where you heighten your self awareness and are in a state of mental sharpness.
So how has this meditative practice enriched my life? Well, firstly it’s taught me to be more empathetic. Genuinely, it’s so easy to dismiss a gargling ‘nutjob’ at the bus stop, as just that, a ‘nutjob.’ Someone who we find distasteful, threatening and therefore ignorable. We’ve all done it. Because it’s easier to ignore than actually process. Now I’m not saying you should fully engage with every questionable character that crosses your path, but I will say Mindfulness has helped me to acknowledge and process what’s going on with the people around me a little better. Yes, that old man in the tube was snappy, but why? What day has he had? Is he tired? Nervous? Unhappy? People’s behaviour is the result of various effects, ones often beyond their control and Mindfulness has helped me take a step back to appreciate that. (And a step away from the judgmental cow I once was.)
Mindfulness has taught me how to really LISTEN. Listen to the exact words, pauses, tone of voice someone is using with open, non-judgmental ears. Properly, not with half an eye on the last Hobnob over there, not with half a mind on the point I want to make next in the conversation but with full attention on the beautiful person presently in front of me. And BLOODY HELL do you start to realize how much more you pick up when you do this. How much richer your exchanges can be when you can connect with the enthusiasm or vulnerability or whatever else lies underneath that seemingly light hearted comment someone’s making.
But with that said, it’s not that ‘mindful me’ doesn’t have shit days too. Ones consumed with the futility of worrying about the flabbiness of my butt, sad with loss, eaten up by a never-ending flurry of testing email exchanges. I’m not a little ray of sunlight piously preaching the virtues of Mindfulness from the comfort of a perfect life. In a lot of ways Mindfulness has helped us here at Antidote to appreciate that we’re all not perfect and that’s totally fine. But if we hone in on the subtleties of our present mood, temperature, feelings, we’re in a far better place to understand them and not be overwhelmed by them. And do you know what we’ve also realised? The great big juicy PRESENT is what shapes the future. It’s your positive actions and interactions and emotions today that are feeding into a better tomorrow. It was staring us in the crimson-hued, stressed face all along. It’s through this practice that we believe greater inner happiness can be achieved, happiness that gradually diffuses out into the world around us. Which can only be a pretty good thing right?
Mindfulness can also be hard. Beyond the practicality of forcing yourself to take time to meditate aching back et all it can also be REALLY DULL. There are moments where I’ve been sitting cross-legged, cross temperedly contemplating whether mine is the most boring mind ever owned. But then there are these blissful moments where it’s given my under-rested, over-caffeinated mind such respite and clarity I could weep with joy. And I’ve learnt to actually spend time with my emotions. Sometimes that can be a bit like hanging out at a party with every irritating, over bearing knob you’ve ever met. But you know what? After a while you can start to understand those knobbish beasts. You can recognize their important place in the ever changing landscape of your mind party. A party where the disco lights can’t always be flashing on the sexy people. (Thanks for going with me on that metaphor.)
So, hopefully now your interest – piqued either by curiosity or a desire to prove me wrong – has encouraged you to investigate Mindfulness a little further. In hopeful anticipation of this I’ve put together the below for you and wish you all the best on your journey into mindfulness.
The Mindfulness Starter Kit
One Minute Of Mindfulness
Find a quiet comfortable space where you can spend a little time interrupted. Now try spending one whole minute focused purely on your breathing. Not trying to alter it but simply experiencing how it feels, sounds and the rhythm of it in your body. Try to bring your thoughts back to your breath when (it will) tries to wander off. This isn’t a test you can ‘fail’ in any way, just use it as a opportunity to experience clear attention on one thing; your breath. You can use this exercise at various points throughout the day to return your mind to the present moment. Sounds weird, is actually immensely calming.
Get the Headspace App
The first sessions are everyone’s favourite price: FREE. And it’s developed and taught by ex Buddhist Monk/circus artist/surfer Andy Puddicombe, the poster boy of modern Mindfulness. (I know, I know, his background’s too fantastic right?) Let his dulcet tones take you through the basics of Mindfulness in a fuss-free, un-hippy way.
Dancing in the Dark
We do this exercise sometimes in our games sessions at Antidote. You can do it on your own in an open, safe space where nothing will concuss you or with a partner to guide you. SO simple: shut your eyes and put some chilled/beautiful music on. Then allow yourself to move to the music however feels natural. Focus on nothing but where your thoughts direct your body and on the sensations you’re experiencing. This is effectively a ‘moving mindfulness’ exercise. You’ll probably feel at complete loon doing it at first but please go with me on this, the feeling of freedom and focus is unparalleled.