EVERYDAY AWARENESS Mindfulness can simply mean ‘being present’ when carrying out everyday tasks.
Mindfulness has become a real buzz word nowadays, and its popularity is spreading fast. It has been propelled into the west and into our mainstream in the last two decades. We, or certainly I, had never heard of it years ago. More of us had heard of meditation, but it seemed exotic and difficult in some ways, like we would have to dedicate a lot of time every day to it (a perception that is not necessarily true).
Mindfulness and meditation are often put into the same basket. However, while there are similarities, there are also differences.
Mindfulness has been researched a lot in recent years, and the long list of its proven benefits is a strong reason to give it a try. It has been shown to enhance mental and physical wellbeing thanks to everything from stress and pain relief and improved sleep patterns to a increasing the chances of breaking out of depression or addiction.
When we look beyond these more obvious health benefits, the advantages of mindfulness multiply enormously. It makes us more attentive, grounded, aware, confident and decisive, and less caught up in the autopilot habit. Mindfulness really does open us up to a new way of living.
Way of life
So what is mindfulness? Even though it can be a practice, it’s really just a way of life. A practice is when we dedicate a certain time every day to ‘practice’ or ‘do’ our mindfulness. This can be helpful, especially at the beginning to get used to mindfulness, but the hope is that it would become a natural part of everyday living. What do I mean by this? Well, you would become aware and more mindful in your everyday activities, so for example, you could be washing the dishes in a mindful way.
And what is that mindful way? It is the ability to be in the present moment, not changing what we are doing in that moment, just noticing everything about it. The focus is on your experience in the present moment, forgetting about the past and the future or even time itself going by. You allow, but you don’t focus on any thoughts or feelings. So you notice how you feel or what thoughts are there but you don’t get caught up in thinking about them.
What mindfulness is not
Mindfulness is not an emptying the mind. It is not about stopping thinking. It’s not a relaxation technique, even though it can help with this. It’s not an escape from our true personality – rather, it’s the opposite: it can show us who we really are as a person. And finally, it’s not about living life with no planning whatsoever.
I often hear it said that mindfulness is just going with the flow, a reason to not have to plan or organise anything. This is not so. It is possible to plan in a mindful way. If we are in tune with ourselves in a more mindful way, we become much more aware of our wants, needs and desires, and we can plan to suit these.
For example, if you know you will be tired after work and won’t be feeling up to going out, being mindful means recognising this and planning accordingly. So you may decide to stay at home and get an early night, or to go out but head home earlier and go out for longer another day. In fact, really going with the flow would probably mean you would go out without giving much thought to how you are or whether it’s really what you want to be doing.
Taking a step back from ‘doing’ and moving into a state of being is a key skill of mindfulness. The ‘doing’ mode is one we all know. It is the mode of efficiency, the way we get things done. The ‘being’ mode is different, in that it can give us nourishment and a sense of calm in our busy lives of seemingly endless ‘doing’.
The ability to be mindful in the midst of doing is an ideal combination of both of these ways of existing in the world. And if we become more aware, more mindful, it allows us to know when we need to do more or less ‘doing’ so that we can better take care of ourselves when we need to.
Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at email@example.com or 085 1372528.