Mindfulness is a term that is heard a lot these days and is basically a term that is used to describe an awareness of the present moment or the “now”. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in his classic book, The Miracle of Mindfulness: “ Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child-our own two eyes. All is a miracle”.
Mindfulness is being aware of the miracle.
When described, mindfulness is the simple act of directing one's attention to what is happening right now. But in practice, this becomes much more difficult than it might first seem. Experiencing the moment is easy; Just pause for a moment and take one deep breath, feel the cool air on your nostrils as it enters your body feel your chest expand as you exhale feel the air exit your nostrils and your chest falls. That’s all there is to it –easy. The difficulty arises when we try to be aware for much longer than one breath, we start thinking about picking the kids up from school, what the person you met yesterday thought of you when you had to cut the conversation short, what you will do on the weekend, a million thoughts, plans and regrets flood our mind and soon we forget that we were even trying to be aware.
Trying to practice mindfulness on a long term basis is difficult because we simply forget to do it. But with practice, we find we can remember do be aware more often and can achieve it for longer. This happens because we are training our minds. A daily practice of yoga and or meditation is an enormous aid in training our mind for such an awareness. On your yoga mat: the practice of being aware of your body and breath when practicing asanas. In meditation: on your meditation cushion or zafu the practice of coming back to your breath again and again. These practices, when performed regularly, strengthen our mindfulness muscles and allow us, ever so slowly, to become more aware of our day to day lives.
Recently I read a book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, one of their suggestions is to pick a routine activity such as brushing your teeth or your morning cup of tea and commit yourself to do this activity as mindfully as you can for a week. Again, this sounds simple but I have tried to get started on this one several times and have not managed to do it two days in a row yet, I simply keep forgetting to do it! But this is all part of the practice and I just have to remind myself of Cheri Huber’s saying: “remember to remember when you can remember”. One way to remind ourselves to be aware of the present is to download one of the many free mindfulness chimes off the internet or to purchase a timer such as the Enso meditation timer. These timers can be set to go off at regular intervals, when you hear the chime you simply take one or two deep breaths and return to what is happening right now.
It is important to remember, however, that mindfulness is just that - a return to what is happening right now- and this not always what we think we want to be happening. In mindfulness, we try to experience what is happening without judgment and without looking for a distraction. Again, this is easier said than done, (I have included a list of books that I have found helpful at the end of this blog) but with practice, it slowly becomes easier.
In the fast pace of the modern world, we use many time-saving devices to get done what we need to, but it can help to sometimes do things the old fashioned way. I find for instance, that it is much easier to inject some mindfulness into my day if I ride my pushbike to work rather than drive. I try to be aware of the wind on my face, feel the muscles in my legs pushing the pedals and pay attention to how the bike feels beneath me (please note that you still need to pay attention to the cars and others using the road or track). Some of my other favourite mindful activities are making bread by hand and really feeling the dough as I knead it, washing the dishes by hand mindfully or (my current favourite) ditching the iPod and really, really
listening to an old vinyl album.
“Mindfulness is a truly different way of knowing the world. It is not just thinking along a different track. To be mindfulness means to be back in touch with your senses, so you can hear, touch, smell and taste things as if for the first time. You become deeply curious about the world again”. (Mark Penny and Danny Penman).
Why not give mindfulness a try.
Some mindfulness books I have found helpful:
The Miracle of mindfulness.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
The Power of Now.
By Eckhart Tolle
Wherever You Go There You Are.
By Jon Kabat-Zin
Mindfulness a practice guide for finding peace in a frantic world
. By Mark Williams and Danny Penman
More information on these books and meditation and yoga products that can assist in your practice can be found on the Yoga-King website.