It is not always easy to practice mindfulness in our current circumstances, whatever they may be.
We live in a world that is always open, where it is possible to live large parts of our lives 24/7. Where we are always accessible via phone, text, internet. Where work can reach us during dinner and on vacation.Because of this we have tried to adapt by being as efficient as possible in the art of multi-tasking.
We reason that this allows us to cram more of life into one day and therefore to live better and accomplish more. This is good at times, when we have emergencies or large projects with a deadline, but many people have learned to live like this all the time. But we as a species are simply not designed to live this way.
But when we try to slow down, we feel like slackers, not getting things done. This guilt is reinforced by our culture and the examples we see of others, including our spouses, bosses, co-workers, parents, and siblings. They are all doing it; so should we. Who has time to practice mindfulness?
The results of this flurry of constant activity is a high level of stress and all that goes with it: lack of sleep or too much sleep, eating too much or not enough, eating the wrong kinds of foods, feeling tired, cranky and out of sorts.
When we do too much at one time, we lose touch with our lives, performing tasks so quickly and efficiently that we are completely disconnected from them. We are literally missing our lives in an effort to catch up so that we can enjoy our lives more.
Instead, we need to realize that sometimes doing less is more. We need to spend some time doing one task with all of our attention, not thinking of what we’ve already accomplished or how much more we need to get done.
Mindfulness can help us regain our feelings of intimacy with life when we feel out of touch and disconnected.
Here are 5 ways you can get started training your mind to pay attention:
- Try to do one task each day mindfully. This can be taking your morning tea or coffee, brushing your teeth, driving to work, walking to the bus stop—any activity that you do regularly. If, for example, you choose to walk mindfully, be aware of your breathing as you walk. Center in on the movements of your muscles, your feet, your calves, your hips, your sitting bones. Feel the movement of your arms: do you move them only slightly with each step or do you swing them freely as you propel yourself forward?
- Do it with your full attention. If you choose to eat breakfast or sip your tea mindfully, don’t read the paper or watch television or listen to the radio or talk to your spouse or kids while you practice mindfulness . Notice the feel of the knife and fork in your hand or the cup against your lip. Notice the aromas, the flavors, and, of course, the ever-present companion of your breath.
- Practice gathas. A gatha is a little poem that can be used to practice mindfulness by focusing on what we are doing and returning our attention to the moment. Try using the following gatha: Breathing in, I feel the air entering my nostrils/Breathing out, I smile. This is a wonderful moment.
- Go for a walk. When you are out walking about, take time to return to your breathing. Then notice things around you. Don’t just rely on your eyes. Deliberately listen for what sounds there are, or if there is anything you can smell on the wind. Your mind will drift. It doesn’t matter. When you realize you have drifted, bring your focus back to the physical act of walking and focus on that.
- Strike a pose. Do a simple yoga pose to ground yourself again. It doesn’t have to be difficult or fancy. In fact, simple is better here. Try mountain pose or a forward bend, or tree pose if you like. While you are holding your pose, just notice the things in your body that change: shifting of weight, deepening of the pose, discomfort somewhere. If your nose itches, notice that but don’t scratch it right away.
If you continue to do your chosen mindful activity daily, you may well find that the focus you develop during this activity will weave itself into your day. After a period of weeks or months you may find yourself slowing down while doing other activities such as going to the grocery store or preparing dinner.
When you practice mindfulness, you are making an investment in yourself. By being present for even the most mundane tasks, you develop the ability to be truly present for yourself and others when the big events happen in your life.
The more that you practice mindfulness the more that you will begin to hear the messages your body and heart send you regarding your life. You will be able to uncover what is truly important to you and align your actions in that direction. Then, you will be able to live authentically from the inside out—making your actions and your life a manifestation of your most deeply held values and beliefs.