Is your mind full of stuff? Or are you mindful of stuff?
Mindfulness is a very well known idea now, but maybe knowing how to really be mindful can still feel a bit elusive. It can be off-putting as an idea because life feels so chaotically full of stuff. How do we go from being constantly busy and fulfilling deadlines, our children’s needs, and all the different pulls and pressures we feel every day to being more in control, spacious, and in the present moment? It’s sometimes put as “we’re not ‘do’ings, we’re ‘be’ings”, our natural inner calm and strength comes to the forefront when we allow ourselves to just ‘be’.
Being mindful simply means noticing what’s going on right now in the present moment, and not judging anything about it. For example, notice yourself fully right now – how you’re sitting or standing, how tense your muscles are (are your eyebrows furrowed? Are your shoulders tense?), do you have lots of things going on at the same time? Are you thinking about five different things at the same time? At the same time remember to only notice and not judge yourself for any of it. Just being mindful helps us to see things more clearly. Instead of staying stuck in an overwhelmed, anxious, weighed down state where nothing feels easy, being mindful clears space, gives us a chance to breathe more slowly, and puts everything into perspective. It’s when we slow down that those ‘lightbulb moments’ happen (think of all the times when you’ve had your best ideas when you go to the toilet, when you’re laying down in bed, and when you can’t think of a word and find it when you stop overthinking about it).
An important thing to remember is that mindfulness isn’t something you can only do with no distractions around you, sitting in a room with dimmed lighting and when you’ve studied a ‘Mindfulness’ course. Much like pretty much every other modern Westernised version of these ancient wellbeing techniques, mindfulness is an all encompassing way of being first used and taught thousands of years ago to reduce stress and illness and promote a long and healthy life. We can be mindful in all situations, and in fact it can be more enlightening to practice mindfulness when we are in an anxiety inducing chaotic situation. It can help us to spot what our fear triggers are and create space between ourselves and the reaction. We will always have emotions and thoughts, we’re human and that’s part of our function of living in the world, but we don’t have to stay stuck in a perpetual cycle where we blindly repeat the same things that are causing us and those around us harm or keeping us stuck.
Here are just some ways to make mindfulness part of your every day life
- Next time you wash your hands really pay your full attention to every part of the process, notice how the water feels on you hands and fingers, the temperature of the water, the scent and smoothness of the soap, the texture of the towel.
- When you’re outside think about how you’re walking, look at the different colours and shapes around you, smell all the aromas as you pass by different places, feel the sun or wind or rain on your skin and just notice without judgement or reaction.
- Next time you’re talking to someone, pay attention to where you are looking – in their eyes, which eye? All around their face, past them, etc, notice your own body language and whether it’s similar to theirs, whether you are frowning or smiling or something else.
Although I’m writing from the perspective of a neurotypical person, I’ve found that encouraging and showing my two autistic sons how to be more mindful in their interactions and everyday lives has helped them to feel less overwhelmed and anxious over time. All humans struggle with the chaos of modern life, but the world is set up for the benefit of neurotypical people. Mainstream schools are the best example, the way a classroom is set up doesn’t allow for brains that work differently from the prescribed ‘norm’. All children are expected to fit in with a standardised way of learning and testing. Most children can make mental adaptations to the stress and strain of having to do things this way or else they’ll be punished, but I’m guessing most children would thrive a lot better if their many different needs (whether neurodiverse of neurotypical) were not ignored. It would benefit us all if we as a society were more mindful of the fact that a successful adult is not one who robotically performs jobs with no need for love, understanding, and mental and physical wellness. Some schools are now introducing the idea of mindfulness at least, it’s just that the system they are presenting it within is inherently set up to cram children’s minds full of stuff.
If you are interested in making mindfulness part of your everyday life, there are a few ways I can help. I’m very excited to be launching Make May Mindful this year. Use the prompts as inspiration to bring mindfulness into each day in May and share your mindful thoughts in social media posts. Please tag me in your posts so that I can comment, share and promote mindful living more widely. Feel free to share this image with your friends and family too. I will be sharing lots of live videos each day to give you support on my Facebook and Instagram pages.
Mindfulness is a natural part of every class I teach, so if you are interested in learning meditation, qigong or Chinese massage, get in touch and let me know your specific needs.
I’m running an event during the first week of June for those who want to go a bit deeper with their mindfulness practice – Seven Days of Zen
My next Clear the Clutter Challenge begins on 7th June and is full of mindful exercises every day for four weeks.