It’s Winter here in Melbourne and many people I speak to seem to be wondering how they can feel better. The weather is grey and gloomy, and wet and cold to boot, and sometimes it seems hard to feel bright and positive. Holidays are one way we tell ourselves that things will get better. We look forward to future events, to escaping on sunny tropical islands, to anywhere but here!
I know I’ve certainly struggled to keep up my exercise and bad patterns and habits seem to be creeping in while I’m not looking! So like everyone else, I need to remind myself to practice mindfulness, it’s not something that we do just once or twice a day by cultivating a meditation practice. We also need to practice off the cushion so to speak.
Practicing Mindfulness in our daily lives
The trick is to stop on a regular basis to be in the moment. If we really cultivate the capacity to live more mindfully, moment by moment, step by step we see the huge benefits that follow in health and in happiness.
The Default mode of the brain
We spend a lot of time living in the future or ruminating about the past. That is the biggest cause of being in default mode, where the brain learns its habits of anxiety and hypervigilance. Our mind wanders constantly. Researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert have found that our attention is off-task around 47 per cent of the time (unless making love, in which case those surveyed daydreamed a bit less.) See more about this in my book, Mindful Relationships
Unsurprisingly Killingsworth and Gilbert found that mind wandering makes us consistently less happy. This is true even if we are focusing on pleasant things like daydreaming about that tropical holiday! I will talk more about default mode in my next article on the positive effects on mindfulness on your health.
But for now you may like to conduct some experiments for yourself. Grab a pen and paper right now. Jot down some of the things you do every day. Maybe pick 5-10.
Here are some of my own suggestions:
Get out of bed
Have a shower
Make breakfast, sit down and eat what I have prepared
Make a coffee
Go for walk
Now here is the same list with how I can do these things mindfully:
Get out of bed and feel the earth below my feet, as I connect with the ground that supports me, sense into my body and notice how I am feeling, perhaps even use this as a reminder to be grateful that I am about to live fully a brand new day, connect with and notice my breath and take a few mindful breaths. Connect with an intention for the day.
Have a shower and sense into the feeling of the water on my body, on my skin. Notice how it feels as it touches my head, back, legs, arms and torso. Really sense into the present moments of being in the shower rather than letting my mind wander off into a million other places. Notice any qualities of aliveness or deadness in my body, remembering not to judge it but simply to notice and hold in loving presence what I notice. Sense into the quality of presence I can bring to having a shower.
Make breakfast: take time to focus on what I am doing. Connect in again with my breath and my body, notice if I am already feeling rushed and if my mind has wandered onto what I need to get done today. Check if I am able to remain present, if I can connect in with the loving act of preparing good nutritious food for myself and then as I sit to eat, noticing the taste and fully savouring the experience: this way in which I am caring for myself and my body, taking care to stay present with each moment.
Notice how I can learn to eat mindfully, eating healthy, sustaining food in the quantity that my body naturally desires. Fully taste every mouthful. Notice the morning sky, the birds outside, and the feeling of contentment I have when I set myself up for the day.
Make coffee, do the same as above. Now it just so happens that I really love my coffee and I allow myself just one per day (normally!) So I want to really be sure that I fully taste and enjoy the experience, not miss it because I am already focused on a trillion other things! Smell and taste my coffee, enjoy the aromas of freshly ground coffee beans and the texture of the rich crema on top!
Go for walk: I also happen to love my morning walk. Mindfully walking is a meditation practice in itself. Thich Nhat Hanh is famous for his tips on mindful walking and many years ago I attended a writing workshop where his ideas on mindful walking were used to foster creativity and expression. It’s a great way to start your day, fully noticing each step, each breath, the pauses, the in between moments, the senses inside and the beauty outside. Notice how each part of your body feels and see if you can practice getting a sense of your whole body as a whole body experience.
These are just a few tips on how you might practice mindfulness on a daily basis. Set yourself reminders, sticky post it notes, set alarms on your phone, whatever feels right for you, to practice pausing and connecting in with yourself on a frequent basis.