Over the last couple of years I have dabbled with mindfulness and seen the benefits that it can bring. There is a LOT in the press about mindfulness at the moment but I still see a great deal of confusion about what it actually is.
At one end of the scale, mindfulness can be full on meditation in the Buddhist tradition – mantras, crossed legs,bells, the works. That takes a great deal of practice to do well and to get benefit from – Buddhist Monks are so good at it because that’s their job!
In the middle, there is the ‘new age’ type of mindfulness which is far more accessible to most people. In my experience, this new form, where there the practice is not called meditation (I assume to detach from the religious associations and assumption of hard work) but mindfulness. In this form, the practice involves taking some quiet time each day and doing some relaxation techniques and learning to create a little bit of space in your mind. Space between the worrying about the past and the anxiety about the future. There are some great apps for your phone that help with this, see below.
And then there is the type of mindfulness that I have practiced the most. After doing some meditations, I became able to find the moment more easily and to live in that moment more often. Life changes when you do that. All you have to think about is the next 60 seconds. And the truly magic thing about mindfulness (for me anyway) is that it doesn’t take any more time or effort but it makes time.
Mindfulness is the art of connecting with the present.
When I first met my husband I was quite clumsy and had a series of small knocks and bangs and he casually pointed out one day that I wasn’t very mindful. I queried what he meant and it was a revelation to me that I could actually be thinking about the current moment and that in doing so I might be more vigilant and careful.
It doesn’t take any more energy or skills to think about where you are putting your feet when you step up / down / across – but by being in that moment, by creating the space in your head to think “Where am I putting my foot?” you can actually become far less accident prone!
The majority of people do not experience the present moment
Creating space in our heads using techniques such as mindfulness can provide immense solace and support for many. Living our lives in the liminal space of ‘Now’ creates a bubble in time, where the present moment extends forever and there is only this moment; this ability frees the mind from worries and anxieties and provides immense insights and yet it contains a great paradox; this moment is all there is and yet the majority of people do not experience it.
The past no longer exists and is filtered by our perceptions and beliefs, the future is created by our imagination (and beliefs); it too does not exist in reality.
As Eckhart Tolle says, we are lost in thought. We lose ourselves.
So for me, although I do sit down periodically and spend 10 minutes using mindful techniques (with the help of the apps below), more often I practice mindfulness by:
- Noticing the world around me, seeing colours and shapes, feeling the breeze, smelling smells
- Listening to my breath – this is a classic anchor in meditation but works anytime, especially if you are stressed or you know your mind is running away with itself – bring it back by concentrating on a few breaths, feeling your belly rise and fall – this is now.
- Attempting (not always successfully!) to only do one thing at a time – I have a tendency to multitask, listening and cooking, reading and watching… so much better to do one thing with full attention. Chopping food is particularly enjoyable if you are noticing the colours, shapes and smells whilst you are doing it. Watching TV without doing anything else feels luxurious!
- My photography practice involves being mindful, seeing what catches my eye and hoping to capture that in a photograph.
There are bookshops full of books and websites packed with information, but I have found the following resources extremely helpful:
This is the go-to book on actually learning mindfulness in a straightforward (ie not wrapped up in spirituality) way.
Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. [Link to Amazon.co.uk]. They are the experts and this course is recommended by all the leading mindfulness advocates. If you only get one book, get this one! 🙂
Android phone apps – Stop Breathe Think – this app is more traditional mindfulness and is an excellent introduction to the practice. Buddify is my current favorite, slightly different, it introduces you to areas to think about, ways of improving thought processes in your life. I have learnt a lot from these excellent meditations.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness (YouTube video) – only 4 mins and well worth listening to – there are many longer videos from Jon on YouTube that will explain more.
Mindfulness: the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment non judgmentally. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Fine Art Project
As part of my final work for my MA Fine Art I am looking at mindfulness using the metaphor of liminal spaces such as bridges and ferries. I will be sitting on a bridge for an hour attempting to remain mindful for that time – and I will be painting my experience of doing that.
The featured picture above is part of a series I am doing on the Gosport Ferry.