“So, mindfulness… is that kind of Buddha, smelly smoke, bells, chanting and sitting on your arse for hours?”
Such is the perception (or mis-conception) of teenage boys and mindfulness. But it really got me thinking, as I attempted to impart some of my motherly wisdom on my 14 year old…how exactly do we achieve mindfulness, and why do we even need to in the first place?
Well, let’s start with the “Why”. Why is mindfulness important? What does it achieve. How does it help anyone or anything?
Mindfulness is not, as many people seem to think, creating a space in your head where there are no thoughts at all. Quite the contrary. Mindfulness is all about noticing your thoughts, and having conscious control over them and having those same thoughts creatively work FOR you. Yes, you heard me right…thoughts are powerful things, and they have their own energy field, and they are able to physically manifest in the world you exist in. So, in that light, don’t you think that we would be best served by thinking thoughts that are beneficial to us and to the world we live in? Thoughts that are loving, happy, grateful, passionate, collaborative, hopeful, encouraging…? Yes, of course – we all want to live in a world full of these types of thoughts and energies!
But actually, have you noticed, we are being bombarded with fear, anger, desperation, division and hate? If your Facebook News Feed is anything like mine, you can’t scroll 3 posts without something about how the world is going entirely to shit. While I can’t say I am ignoring the issues facing the world – like plastic and pollution of our precious environment, for example – I am choosing not to dwell forever on these. Instead, I choose to put my thoughts and creative energy into getting as much love, hope and joy into the world as I can.
One of the ways that I personally do this is by choosing to be mindful. It’s so easy to get caught on the treadmill of negative, fearful or angry thinking. I have literally found myself replaying an imagined conversation/argument in my head over and over again and getting more upset each time I replay this. The crazy thing is that this “conversation” has never, and will never, take place! But it takes something out of the ordinary to snap me out of this pattern – and offer the chance to choose a more hopeful and happy thought. So I thought I would share with you 10 of the tips to mindfulness that I use in the hope that you can also fill your head (and your world, as a consequence) with more joy, hope, gratitude and love.
- Breathe: When things get overwhelming and you feel that your sad/angry/upset emotions are getting the better of you, pause and take 10 deep, full breaths. As you are breathing, take note of which part of your lungs you breathe from – do you breathe from your chest, or perhaps your belly), can you feel the temperature of the breath going into your lungs, and coming out? Can you lengthen the breath on the inhale and the exhale? What does your breath sound like? Feel like?
- Walking: Moving the body, try to do this in bare feet outside (if temperature and terrain allow!), feel how the ground (or the floor if you are inside) feels on your feet – is it sharp, soft, squishy, warm, cold? Can you feel the muscles in your feet, legs, hips as you walk? Can you count your steps? All of these things will take you out of your mind and allow that critical pause in thinking which will allow you to fill the gap with thoughts that benefit and honor you.
- Taste: At your next meal, take some time and really taste your food. Don’t check your phone, read a book, listen to music, walk around. Sit down and be quiet (doesn’t matter if you are in a room by yourself of the loudest, most raucous pub in the world – the point is that YOU are quiet, not your environment). Taste the salty, sweet, sour in each mouthful. Chew and count the number of chews per mouthful. Feel the texture, the temperature. Really take time to honor the food that nourishes and energizes your amazing body.
- Smell: In the same was as we mindlessly eat, we have also lost much of our reliance on smell – but this is one of the most powerful of all our senses. So again, I challenge you to find 5 minutes and identify at least 30 different smells where you are. You don’t have to name them, but just recognize that they are different to one-another. Again, this will allow your beautiful brain to pause.
- Listening: Just 5 minutes to really listen – first concentrate on the room that you are in (or the immediate area around you if you are outside), then extend your awareness to the building you are in, and then outside that building. Listen further and further beyond you physically. And then, listen inwards. Can you hear the blood in your veins, the pumping of your heart, the whistle of breath in your nostrils, the sound of you swallowing. 5 minutes is all it takes.
- Looking: Our eyes – how often do we really give thanks for our sight? So take the time to mindfully look around you – take a tree for instance. How many different colors can you see? Then look at the hues – how many different shades of green can you identify? What about the shadows – the play of light and dark. How much detail of the bark and leaves can you actually see.
- Your Body: I love this one – this teaches us how mindlessly we hold our body and where exactly we store our stresses. Starting with your head and neck (and slowly moving down your body right to your toes), tense up all the muscles, squeeze in really tight. Hold it there. Then release – let go of all that squished up energy and let the muscles relax. You will instantly see where you hold your stress. So, not only is this a powerful mindfulness tool, it is a clear barometer of your body and your stress levels.
- TV Screen Method: I learned this method many years ago with a gorgeous, round, bald Scottish yogi called Ian. All you do is to look at your thoughts as if they were TVmoving across a screen (TV, tablet, smartphone etc) and allow them to pass. Try not to attach to a thought and chase after it, catching it and engaging with it. And when this does happen, consciously let that thought go. After a while, you will begin to notice that there are a lot less thoughts. And then you can chose which thoughts you want to place in the gaps – hopefully they are joyful and hopeful thoughts!
- Writing: Oh, the power of the written word. I first learned this technique when I was a teen, on a school retreat. We were taught about conscious stream writing. This is where you simply write down anything that comes into your head. Much like the TV Screen method, except you write down the thought as it passes by you. Now, the real trick is to KEEP writing, even when there seems to be nothing to write about. You can write a whole page of “I am bored”, or “I don’t know what to write”. But stick at it – and you will be amazed at what comes from this simple, powerful method. Start off with just 5 minutes, but build up to at least 30 minutes. Follow Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and see if you can get up to 3 A4 pages every single day as soon as you wake up.
- Mantra: Having a mantra that you set each morning as you get up can be profound. During the day, all you have to do is to repeat the mantra again and again – time it with your breath. Try to aim for 2-3 times a day, for about 5 minutes if you can. And the mantra can happily be related to the tasks that fill your day. For me. as an example, I use a very specific mantra for those times when the creativity is not flowing, nor is the ability of my fingers to bring to life my designs. Then, my mantra is “I am a creative genius”…over and over and over again. I also use physical tasks like gardening, ironing (not that I do much of this, if I am completely honest), and even sanding my jewelry – these physical tasks offer a chance to create a mantra from them – this is very powerful.
And there you have it. 10 simple steps that you can use each and every day – today even – to re-program your brain, your creative thoughts, to seeing and believing a more positive, loving and connected world. Check out my video below for a summary of these points. And let’s hold a glass high to celebrate mindfulness!
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