I’m lucky enough to be on holiday this week, I’m not saying this to you gloat but I thought I would take this opportunity to practice some mindfulness and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the subject with you. Being by the sea with nothing to do is the perfect time and place for a spot of meditation but it can be done anywhere and anytime.
I came by mindfulness a few years ago, I was going through a bit of a difficult time in my life and I had heard about mindfulness so I booked myself on to an 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course. At the time I felt a bit sceptical as all I seemed to be doing was lying down, doing nothing and I couldn't help thinking about all the things I should be doing instead! It took me quite a while to settle into a state of non-doing and just being instead, but it is hands down the best thing I have ever done for myself.
Mindfulness comes from the Buddhist tradition but it is secularised and you don't have to be spiritually minded or a yoga fanatic to benefit from it. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to back up the benefits of mindfulness practice on the brain, I won't bore you with all that here though, just know that the brains of people who meditate regularly are in significant better shape than those who don’t. A healthy brain is pretty important for all sorts of reasons the brain is the central operating system for every part of our body. A healthy brain not only protects us against mental illness but is also important for looking after our physical health, sleep and pretty much everything else!
Mindfulness is recommended by NICE for treatment resistant depression but it is also widely used for helping to manage anxiety, stress, chronic pain and has many many more applications. Because it changes the structure of the brain to be more healthy and efficient it can be used for anyone wishing to feel the benefits.
It is hard to describe how good being mindful feels because it is very experiential. Mindfulness is best understood by doing it rather than reading about it, but for me the benefits felt like my mind had had a good spring clean! I began to experience pauses in situations where I might have once reacted and this gave me a chance to respond in healthier ways to the stressors that are all around us all (kids, work or school, money, relationships, health etc., etc.) I began to notice the little things, like sunsets, pretty flowers, the birds. It reminded me of being outside with my toddler and how he used to point out all the tiny little things like lines of ants or funny shaped sticks! Small children are actually really great at being mindful, just watch them next time you can, they notice everything around them, they aren’t worrying about what is for dinner or the mortgage rates or who’s turn it is to put the bins out, they are immersed in their experience wherever they are.
Mindfulness is in essence about being fully present in the moment. It is also about recognising the impermanence of moments. This is really helpful, if you feel awful it is comforting to know that you won’t always feel so awful, but also in the same vein, if you are feeling really good, savour it because you won’t always feel that way. Everything passes, everything changes and what mattered a moment ago may not matter in the
future because all we ever have is right here, right now. In the present there is no anxiety because anxiety is related to what might happen in the future there is also no sadness or regret because that is in the past. With practice we can learn to feel safe in the present moment.
All that is not to say we should just forget our problems but rather to say that if we focus on our problems with our full attention we will be doing our best. There is a Zen saying that goes, ‘when you drink just drink, when you walk, just walk’. Try it and see what happens!