Part Six: Its a Wrap!
This is the last of the six-part series on the practice of mindfulness. To reap the full benefit of everything we have learned from the last six posts, it is important that you start this journey with openness and curiosity. In the absence of an agenda and preconceived notions you will be able to view your experience in a new light. Start this journey with the mind of a child, being open and receptive to whatever you may experience. Paying attention to your energy and attitude towards practice is crucial because if you are forcing yourself to feel calm or expecting something magical to happen as you are meditating then you defeat the whole purpose of being in the moment and letting change happen naturally.
So I ask that you make a commitment to yourself to practice meditation on a daily basis. Whether it be for 5 minutes or 40 minutes, consistency is key. Practice both formal and informal mindfulness with a sense of curiosity and willingness to explore what may unfold for you. Lastly, learn to honor your limits – whether they be physical or emotional.
The key concept of mindfulness is to pay attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment. So no matter where you are or what you are doing, simply be aware of whether you are present (both physically and mentally) to what is going on. From time to time ask yourself, ‘Am I fully awake?’, ‘Am I paying attention to what is happening?’, ‘Where is my mind?’, ‘How is my breathing?’ etc. Tune into the sensations of your body – consciously relax those parts of the body where you feel tension. Tune into your thoughts – be aware of what your mind is up to. Tune into your reactions to people and situations– become aware of how you react to them. What prompted you to react the way you did? The moment you become aware that your mind has wandered from the task at hand bring your attention gently back to the present moment – and do this repeatedly. You are creating new neural pathways in your brain by doing this!
Apologies for the long break in posting. Life happened and blogging was pushed to the back of the line for a while. But I intend on being more disciplined in posting regularly going forward.
To recap this six-part series, we have been learning about the physical and mental impacts of stress; how mindfulness can be used to combat stress; and some of the formal ways to practice mindfulness. In part five, we will look at some of the informal ways in which we can integrate mindfulness into our everyday life in order to break free from habitual thought patterns that may not be helpful.
Part Five: Mindfulness – Informal Practice
While the more formal way to cultivate mindfulness is to practice sitting mindfulness meditation, it may not be for everyone. There are numerous other ways in which one can bring mindfulness into everyday activities. As you drive home from work, you can check in and notice if you are present: notice if you feel the seat beneath you and the steering wheel you are holding; notice if you are fully aware of the buildings and stores that pass by; become aware of how your body feels at the moment; notice any tension in your shoulders from stress you experienced during the day. As you wash the dishes after dinner, you can check in and notice if your mind has wandered off to a faraway land instead of being right there – feeling the warm water, the foam that the soap makes and the smell of clean dishes. When you notice the beauty of the evening sky, do not rush to reach for your camera. Instead, stand still and take in the sight. As you eat, check in and become aware of the taste, texture, and smell of the food in front of you. As you go through your day, take three mindful breaths at various times paying attention and being fully aware of what is happening in the present moment – whether it is a thought, an emotion or a bodily sensation. The next time you experience physical pain, instead of automatically reaching for the medicine cabinet, focus your attention on the pain itself. Try to become aware of the exact sensation of the pain – notice if it is it dull or sharp, is it localized or does it spread? Most often, we needlessly intensify an otherwise tolerable experience by adding our own fear, anxiety, self-pity and aversion onto it. When we learn to approach physical pain with a curious mind instead of with aversion, our experience of the pain changes. We will learn more on how to do this in a future blog.
These are just a few examples of the numerous ways in which to be mindful throughout the day. When you ‘check in’ with yourself in this way you are interrupting the habitual way in which your mind gets engulfed in thoughts, unconsciously reacting to them as you are engaged in these daily activities of driving, washing dishes or eating.
Start off by choosing one activity and set the intention to be mindful while doing it. Notice your bodily sensations, your thoughts and emotions while doing this activity. Notice the particular thoughts or memories that pull you into the anxieties of the future or ruminations of the past and let go of them when you can. Bring yourself back to the present. Do this over and over again.