First of all, what is it “mindfulness” and why is it useful?
Mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. The idea of mindfulness is to start noticing the world around us. It’s easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living “in our heads”. We end up caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behavior. An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly, enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.
Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful. This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realize that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us.Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: “Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?” Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.
How can you practice mindfulness?
It can be helpful to pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. Also trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.
It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about making all the thoughts in your head go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events. Just imagine standing at a bus station and seeing “thought buses” coming and going without having to get on them and be taken away. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.
To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam”. Or, “This is anxiety”. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realize that, for several minutes, you have been “trapped” in reliving past problems or “pre-living” future worries.
By Laura Babaityte