M is for Mindfulness
Updated: Aug 26
“There is a seed of anger in every one of us. There is also a seed of fear, a seed of despair...And the agent of transformation and healing is called mindfulness” Thich Nhat Hanh
The word ‘Mindfulness’ is a little strange as it is definitely not about having a full mind! Rather it is about consciously bringing awareness to the present moment (the here-and-now) with openness, receptiveness and a certain amount of curiosity and interest without becoming caught up in your thoughts or distractions; it is about giving life your undivided attention.
“Wherever you are, be there totally.” Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, openness and focus which brings both physical and psychological benefits. There are a variety of Eastern and religious practices that use mindfulness and through which an understanding can be acquired with a lot of time and practice. ACT Therapy (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), in contrast, is a scientifically-based approach based in behavioural psychology (a branch of science that seeks to understand, predict and influence human behaviour). The first four principles of ACT (defusion, expansion, connection and the observing self) collectively known as “mindfulness skills”, can teach mindfulness rapidly and effectively.
The reason for learning ‘mindfulness skills’ in ACT, is to become fully connected and to help take action to improve our everyday reality not to enter a mystical state outside of reality. If defusion, expansion and connection allow you to act effectively then it makes sense to practise them but if they don’t help you create the life that you want then they are not obligatory.
“Many ACT concepts resemble those from various religions particularly the idea of living a life according to your values. But, whereas most religions prescribe a ready-made set of values for you, ACT asks you to clarify and connect with your own values......ACT is about the practical application of mindfulness skills for the express purpose of making important life changes ” Russ Harris
“Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility” Russ Harris
Connecting with your breathing is essential to developing awareness. “To breathe properly is to live properly” When you spend time observing the effect of your breath on your body you begin to notice the sensations as the air flows in and out of your lungs and it allows you to focus your attention; first on your breathing, then your body, then you become aware of your thoughts and feelings which come and go and finally your surroundings – both the sounds and your environment.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh
We remain centred by focusing on our breath despite any passing thoughts. By bringing our attention to our breath, we can calm our minds and bring about an equilibrium.
It is not often that we are really fully present and in the here-and-now, so we miss most of what is going on within us and around us. Being mindful means consciously being aware, stopping to appreciate each moment of life, instead of living life at breakneck speed in the fast lane. By taking time just to be and create a moment of calm gives us an anchor; the longer and consistently the time we spend doing this, the more second nature it will become and the more solid our anchor will be allowing us to re-find this sense of peace inside, deeper and quicker when required.
“The real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.” Osho
However bad things are, we can always breathe and by taking a few moments in the midst of a difficult situation, gives us a time to pause and be present, to notice fully what is happening and allowing us the time necessary to take effective action by responding not reacting.
“The goal is to control your breathing not your feelings. While breathing to connect will often give rise to pleasant feelings such as calmness or peacefulness, you won’t always get them, so don’t come to expect them or try to force them. When Breathing to Connect, allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Make room for those feelings. You don’t have to like them; just let them be.” Russ Harris
Mindfulness is about acceptance rather than resistance and avoidance. It helps us connect with the world as it is rather than based on our projections, judgements and thoughts. When we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings we can see them for what they are and let them go developing our emotional intelligence. When we are focusing on our thoughts, we are missing what is happening in our lives right now in the here-and-now. By calming the chatter of the ‘monkey mind’ through mindfulness it can help you to stop over-thinking and to live in the present moment, which will enrich your life and lead to greater happiness.
“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of this Moment.” Rumi
There is no pain-free existence, life inevitably comes with its ups and downs, when we struggle and try to avoid this reality this is when we encounter pain through our resistance. Mindfulness is about acceptance of what is, embracing all without struggle, in order to create a rich and full meaningful life based on our core values.
“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Practising mindfulness skills helps us create the time to “Stop and smell the roses” and helps us to be fully aware of our actions and the richness and diversity of the world around us. It is about being happy in the moment, practising gratitude, living simply and not worrying about the past or the future.
“Be happy in the moment, that's enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” Mother Theresa
The benefits of mindfulness
“Mindfulness can help us cope with depression, boost our psychological well-being, manage physical pain, and even have better memory. When it comes to the way we think and feel, being mindful of our emotions helps us to switch to more positive mindsets and work towards being a ‘better’—or at least, a happier—person.”Positive Psychology
As well as consciously focusing on our breathing how can we can practice mindfulness in our every day rituals?
· Every time we eat and drink we have the opportunity to take the time to fully savour the taste and sensations in our mouth.
· Really noticing the changing weather is another very simple way to practice mindfulness e.g. listening to the sound of the rain; the rhythms it makes, feeling the sensation of the sun on your face, observing the way dew, rain, snow or sunshine transform a landscape or a simple thing like a cobweb.
· When we experience any emotion we can take the time to notice how this feels in our body and in our head, what it does to our breathing and posture etc
· Although more difficult currently, when we have physical contact with someone, we should learn to fully engage in the physical contact, noticing the sensations we feel even from something as simple as a handshake.
· Another exercise described by Robin Sharma in his book ‘The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari’ is a technique called ‘the heart of the rose’ where you take the time to look at something with fresh eyes, really noticing the colour, texture, design, fragrance etc of an object.
As we open our eyes with awareness in the here-and-now we will notice more opportunities and be able to make the most out of what life has to offer us by pausing, then responding intentionally. We will benefit by being more aware and receptive to how we are feeling and our surrounding reality. By staying mindful we will have more pleasure and fulfilment in everyday things, we will flourish and this will make a considerable contribution to our overall happiness and our relationships with others.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
How can you be more mindful in your everyday life?
How can you intentionally create moments of awareness?
What mindfulness techniques do you find helpful that you could share with others below in comments?
If you want to explore this subject further, here is a comprehensive link to get you started