So here we are again, with some more mindful musings from over Pendle Hill way.
A reminder about what this mindfulness stuff is all about…
- Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and noticing what is happening while it’s happening.
- It’s about being on our own side with kindness when it’s a difficult moment.
- It’s about pausing to take in the good in enjoyable moments.
- It’s about not living our whole life on automatic pilot.
By the time you read this we will be heading towards the twinkly season at speed. My guess is that alongside memories of festivities past, there will be thoughts about the approaching season of good will. Some of these may be pleasant thoughts, others may be anxiety provoking. Getting caught up in focusing too much on regrets about the past or worries about the future can turn on our survival response. This triggers an adrenaline rush and can result in feelings of anxiety and panic. When I was first told that “the brain can’t properly distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined” my response was “what a load of bull…” Maybe your reaction to that quote is a variation on the theme! However, apparently, it’s true and it’s tied up with our brain’s predominant focus on our safety and survival and getting us ready for fight, flight or freeze. Us human beings have survived as a species because the human brain has worked so hard at keeping us safe. The same can’t be said for the sabre tooth tiger or the woolly mammoth though.
A posting I spotted on Facebook recently put it in a nutshell: “Yesterday is gone, forget it. Tomorrow hasn’t come. Don’t think about it. Today is here. Live it.” This is when the practice of mindfulness comes into its own. By bringing ourselves into the present moment we give our mind and body a chance to recover and come back to a calmer place. This way we have the ability to alter our habitual response by taking a pause and choosing how we act.
How do we do that then? Relatively simple to explain but maybe not always so simple to remember to do! Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme back in 1979 to help people with pain management, is said to be the Father of Mindfulness in the Western world. He talks about “coming back to our senses” and using our ability to see, hear, smell, touch and taste to bring us back to the now. By turning our attention, for example, to the sensations of our feet on the floor, the air on our skin, the sounds in the room, the sky outside the window, or the taste of our tea we can bring ourselves into the present moment.
“YESTERDAY IS GONE, FORGET IT. TOMORROW HASN’T COME. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. TODAY IS HERE. LIVE IT”
I often use the phrase “getting out of our heads and into our bodies” to describe this process. While I realise this might cause an eyebrow to be raised in some circles, it brings smiles to the faces of people recovering from substance misuse when I run mindfulness sessions for them. When our attention is focused in this way we arrive in the present moment. Ok, it may only be for a moment or two. Then we’re back in our heads and our minds drift off somewhere else. That’s fine because we can strengthen the habit of being present through practice. As I’ve said previously, mindfulness isn’t a magic pill. It’s an ability that we all have. With all the pressures of 21st Century life, it’s something that we’ve lost a bit on the way. However, if we set an intention to practise, then like anything else we decide to focus on, we get better at it.
How about we just STOP for a minute and have a go at this little mindfulness practice…
STOP what you are doing. Come off automatic pilot and come into the present moment.
TAKE a breath. Bring your attention to the experience of the in breath and the out breath. You can say to yourself ‘in’ as you’re breathing in and ‘out’ as you’re breathing out if that helps with concentration. Just stay with your breath for a minute or two.
OBSERVE Observe what is happening right now with a sense of curiosity. Come back to your senses and notice:
• What am I seeing?
• What am I feeling?
• What am I hearing?
• What am I smelling?
• What am I thinking?
PROCEED and reconnect with your surroundings and your next activity, responding with awareness rather than reacting on automatic pilot.
There are many opportunities in the day when we can just STOP and notice what is happening in our mind and body: when we first wake up, when we are showering, before eating a meal, before checking the emails, in the queue at the supermarket. How would it be if we started STOP ing more often? STOPing in neutral situations will help embed the practice in our brain and make it more likely that we will remember to use it in more stressful situations. It might benefit us if we came back to our senses for a moment of calm just before we tap our credit card yet again and increase our festive debt, when we open the oven door and realise the turkey is burning or before we empty another large serving of wine into our glass. Equally it might be interesting to practise STOPing to take in the good when we are enjoying the company of friends or family, when we see the streets lit up with festive cheer or look up at the starry night sky. Oh yes, and if we are going to drink that large glass of wine then coming off automatic pilot and responding with awareness might result in us savouring the moment and actually tasting it! How good would that be?
Hoping that you are on your own side with kindness and that you take in the good during the festive madness and festive gladness. Looking forward to sharing more moments of mindfulness with you in 2020.