There seems to be a backlash against mindfulness at the moment, with several articles saying it is harmful and some downright scaremongering about what it is. A religion? A cult? Something dangerous that is going to mess with your head?
Personally, mindfulness is a big part of my life and a big reason why I have found so much more peace in recent years.
My mind is a busy, flighty thing and I need to be able to still it every now and then, to create some peace and space in there!
Below is a list of what mindfulness means to me:
- Taking an extra minute to feel the wind on my face when I leave the house in the morning
- Walking slightly more slowly, and noticing the world around me
- Having moments when I am not worrying about the past or anxious about the future – moments of NOW.
- Numerous moments through the day when I do a “body and mind scan” how am I feeling?
- Noticing that I feel scared / anxious / sad and wondering why – without judgement
- Really seeing that beautiful rose in the garden
- Stopping to smell it
- Sometimes I stop and list what I can feel (my clothing, a shoe rubbing, a cold wind on my face) what I can hear (birds, cars, people talking….) and what I can see. I find this especially grounding if I work myself into a state where my brain won’t stop buzzing.
I don’t sit and meditate for hours. I don’t mumble mantras (although both can be very beneficial for some people). I don’t prescribe to any organised religion. I’m not a Buddhist because I think this way. I just try to stop regularly and see. See the world. See how I am feeling. Observing yourself, like an impartial recorder of interesting facts about human behaviour – it is crucial to have no judgement. I am learning not to beat myself up when I realise I have done something or thought something, but rather just to notice it and after a while you notice patterns – “that’s the second time I’ve had a chocolate bar after xxx happened…..”.
After practicing this, I can stop the chatter in my head, even for a moment or two and I experience a wonderful peace and clarity.
It doesn’t matter what it is called, mindfulness is just a word for calming the mind, paying attention to life within and outside.
Photography and art
I use mindfulness in both my photography and art. I need to be able to see in order to take the type of photograph that I want to take. Take the above shot of water droplets on some grasses. I had been out on foot and was on my way home when I saw this beautiful result of a lot of overnight rain. The sun was out and I knew that it wouldn’t last much longer before the water dried. But I didn’t have my camera! Luckily, I was only a 1/4mile from home so I went home and went back and I am very glad I did! If I had either been in the car or rushing without seeing the world around me I would have missed this wonderful shot.
And I am grateful to Lee at Photential for teaching me that.
I also use a form of mindfulness in my art. I cannot paint if my head is full of chatter. It just won’t happen. For years I painted by having Radio4 playing (in the UK Radio4 is a news / information / documentary radio station) – I found that having the talking in the background occupied my busy conscious mind, and I could paint with my subconscious mind.
Since I have been getting better at thinking mindfully, I find that I can calm my mind without outside assistance and my latter paintings have been done in silence, which I like.
Call it “getting in the zone” or “finding your groove” “getting in the flow” “focus”- it’s that feeling when you can stop the chatter, concentrate on what you love and lose yourself in the creative process. Initially it will be fleeting, but over time you can maintain it for longer periods. It is incredibly rewarding.
Mindfulness involves looking inwards. Sometimes our minds are busy as a defence against dark and harmful thoughts and so for some, this may be best approached with professional help. If you practice mindfulness techniques and find the experience uncomfortable, please seek help.
There are a couple of excellent phone apps that have a series of training exercises to get you into thinking this way – they also have longer meditations – but as I have said above, I don’t think these are a necessity.
Reading The Power of Now and Practising the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle will give you an understanding of that space between the past and the future – NOW – the space in which we live but seldom savor.