Mindfulness seems to be having its moment right now. Everyone from Ruby Wax, to Google, to the UK parliament is singing its praises. Is mIndfulness a fad, or can it bring sustainable and meaningful benefits to our lives?
For me, mindfulness is far from a flash in the pan - it’s a way of living life that influences everything I do. It helps me to take better care of myself and others and has revealed a spaciousness and aliveness within me that I didn’t imagine was possible.
Mental Ping Pong –
Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. This may sound simple enough, but often it’s a novel experience (and challenge!) for our minds. This is because the mind meets life at lightening speed – a kind of mental ping-pong between short cuts learned from the past and fears and desires that are projected into the future. Add to that the conditioning of a high speed modern society- a mind wired for low attention span and harsh judgement of ourselves and others, and we can start to see how the preciousness of the present moment can be obscured. In fact, for many of us it’s as if the mind keeps us on our toes but barely able to feel our feet on the floor some of the time!
Meeting life in the moment –
Mindfulness can help us to move beyond this game of ping-pong. It allows us to explore the workings of the mind in real time (the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral…!)
Our sensations – Feeling warm sunshine on our skin, butterflies in our belly, or an unpleasant sound as it meets our ears
Our emotions –love, hate, sadness, happiness, craving for chocolate, aversion to Monday mornings
Our thoughts – The many ways in which we label, ruminate, criticise, objectify and compare
The game of ping-pong goes on but the awareness we develop through mindfulness practice helps us to return to what’s happening in the moment and respond to life with greater care and wisdom.
How does mindfulness actually work? -
At first we simply practice bringing our attention back to our breath or our body – no matter how many times the mind takes a detour (it will do!). As we practice this, our attention becomes sharper and we develop greater clarity and concentration. A brighter mind throws more light on the fleeting moments of ease, love and connection we experience as well as our habits and patterns that if left unchecked, can control our lives – sometimes in quite harmful ways. As this awareness grows, it puts us in touch with a sense of freedom and empowerment – we become aware of the choices available to us. Do we let unhealthy habits play out as they’ve always done…or do we move beyond them to new possibilities and opportunities for how we live our life?
Finding our homebase -
Through mindfulness practice we uncover a spaciousness inside, a home-base from where we can meet life more skilfully. Thoughts and emotions don’t entangle us in the same way, we can let them play out with less wobble and flap. We can soften the grip of harsh judgement, confusion and reactivity and move towards sincerely befriending ourselves and embracing this one truly precious life that we have.