Why are more and more people talking about and practicing mindfulness? It is I believe because more and more people find the practice of mindfulness helps them to live their lives more effectively, more peacefully, more happily and with greater ease.
When we are mindful we know that we are thinking when we are thinking, we know what we are feeling when we are feeling and what is going on in our bodies when something is going on. Most of us don’t live with this kind of awareness, we tend to live in a kind of “automatic pilot”. We are sitting at our desk doing one thing and thinking another; we are checking something on our laptop or smart phone and suddenly we move to open a new email we see coming in; each time our phone rings it throws up something new; we have a plan for the day but then somebody knocks at the door and our attention moves us somewhere else.
And all the time we are automatically opening up new awareness and very quickly we have a whole range of activities, thoughts, plans, routines running around our mind at the same time. It is estimated that over 60,000 thoughts flow through our mind every day and most of them are repeats. We cannot stop our thoughts but we can stop engaging with our thoughts and our attachment to the thoughts – that is what mindfulness training helps us to do.
Today when our attention is drawn in so many different ways, mindfulness is becoming more important. Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to ourselves, others and the world around us. Is is often said that mindfulness is a shift from a doing mode to a being mode.
As human beings we are more like human doers, all the time keeping ourselves busy with endless activities to distract us from being in the present, from being with ourselves, as we are, in any one moment. The doing mode involves a lot of thinking about the future and the past and what this means is we are not fully living in the present. Next time you are in a shower or brushing your teeth or driving a car, just see how much of the time you are actually present with the activity and how much you are not!
One very simple technique that helps us be in the present is an exercise of mindful breathing, focusing on our breathing as a way to enhance our capacity to clear the mind. When we are focusing on our breathing, which always takes place in the present, what we are doing is learning a skill that helps to align body and mind.
The skill of disengaging the mind from where we don’t want it to be, because the stuff that calls our attention can be so obsessive and compulsive, is central to mindfulness. Research has shown that repeating a mindful exercise over and over again improves concentration as it redirects the wandering mind. It is simple but not easy to do because the mind has a natural inclination to wander and because there is a discipline involved in doing exercises or practices over and over again.
Practicing mindfulness is a long term commitment, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a wonderful practice with huge positive effects. It can help with our capacity to stop and pause. It helps us to understand the nature of conditioning and being on “automatic pilot”. It increases our ability to step back and listen, to be present to ourselves and be present to others.
It helps us to recognise warning signs of accumulating stress and also helps us to manage stress more effectively. The practice of mindfulness is one of the best methods for developing resilience in our busy lives.