I started to write this article two hours ago. In between my concentration on writing this article, I have done many things: emails, phone calls, a meeting. I refreshed my tea, used the washroom, looked out the window and wondered what the woman sitting at the sushi restaurant across the street was eating. I sniffed the sweet peas on my desk, pondered what to make for dinner, read several research articles on mindfulness and contemplated registering for an online mindfulness training summit.
Am I being mindful or is my mind full?
I love mindfulness; it encourages me to be honest, compassionate and curious with myself about the ways I engage with the world around me. My full mind has been mindful to life around me, but less mindful to the article I’m writing. Mindfulness increases focus. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “when washing the dishes, wash the dishes.”
Ok Thich, I will wash the dishes!
As a clinical counsellor, mindfulness is a practice I often use when working with patients. It is also essential in my own personal self-care. I have the privilege and joy of teaching the meditation class here at InspireHealth Victoria. People who are new to the concept of mindfulness will often ask me: What is it? Does it work? How do I practice it? Mindfulness is a buzz word right now, being practiced in schools, hospitals, homes, and even prisons. It’s also a powerful ancient practice with roots in Buddhism. And while it is a spiritual practice for some it can also be practiced in a secular and non-denominational way. It is a practice that I have seen change lives.
But what is it?
“Paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment” Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR.
Take my little adventure in writing this article. First, I paid attention to everything but writing this article (and I never did figure out what type of sushi the lady across the road ordered), then I got intentional about writing, and did so non-judgmentally – yes, I got distracted, this is neither good nor bad, it just is, now let’s get present with writing. Members of this week’s meditation class at InspireHealth Victoria were generous enough to share inspiring ways they practice mindfulness in their lives.
“To me mindfulness is sitting down with my cup of tea, and instead of choosing to read books or watch TV, I choose to watch the world around me,” says one member. “I notice nature in a different way. I get to know the creatures of my backyard, the bees on the lavender bushes, the eagles in the sky and the bats who come out in the evening. I engage with the world around me.”
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and author says, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.” Our busy minds distract us from our life.
Another member has her own acronym for Now: Nourishing One’s Wholeness. Before mindfulness meditation practice, she used to spend her morning walks thinking about everything she “had to do” for the rest of her day. With mindfulness, she actively engages with her walks, taking in the scenery around her, mindful of her steps. She describes how this gives her busy mind a break, and is how she nourishes herself – right here in the Now.
Other members share how mindfulness practice allows them to be “in the moment” living day to day, “absorbing being alive.” One member shares how during the experience of cancer, they have struggled with uncertainty and how mindfulness has helped them with this reality by using the simple mantra: “here and now, here and now.”
The impact of media and technology was another member’s awareness of how mindfulness helps them wrestle with the suffering of the world. They wrestle with how to find a balance of being informed with what is going on in the world while holding compassion for it, and also being present in their own experience. They shared how playing with their grandchildren helps them stay in the moment and out of their worry. Children are brilliant teachers for mindfulness, they live in each moment. One minute they are engulfed in the joy of the game they are playing, the next they are crying that it is over, and then they move through that sadness and into the joy of the next moment – 10,000 joys, 10,000 sorrows.
Finally, I share the wisdom of a member who had dedicated this last year to slowing down and becoming mindful of her breath, thoughts and busy mind for “the first time in 71 years”. She said her relationship to mindfulness can be summed up in one word “Aware”. She experiences peace by becoming aware of her thoughts, without judging them as good or bad. She has found ways to be with those thoughts and let them be.
“The day you decide that you are more interested in being aware of your thoughts than you are in the thoughts themselves- that is the day you will find your way out,” Michael Singer, author and spiritual teacher.
Why would we want to practice mindfulness? Well research shows that mindfulness meditation has serious health benefits for our mind and body. It can help with stress reduction, improved sleep, decreased pain, body regulation, strengthening our immune system, increased attention and focus (hello article), emotion balancing, empathy, insight, and overall life satisfaction. So how do we do this? We slow down, pay attention, take a deep breath and get up close and personal with our lives and ourselves. We pause to contemplate nature, notice when our minds are racing and take a deep breath, and get curious instead of judgmental. We also practice patience in knowing that this is a practice not a destination.
A Simple Practice
I will leave you with a simple practice designed by Glen Schneider which he describes in his bite-sized book Ten Breaths to Happiness.
Schneider writes: The Ten Breaths practice is a simple way to use conscious, rhythmic breathing to help us savor life and live more fully. It is quite simple. When something good and wonderful touches us—be it a sight, a sound, or a feeling—we stop and offer it our full presence for the length of ten breaths, so that we can really taste the experience of this present moment.
When a beautiful moment presents itself and you encounter something that you would like to savor, such as sunlight on a dewdrop:
1. Stop whatever you are doing
2. Close your eyes, put your dominant hand on your belly, and begin to pay attention to your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your hand on your belly as you breathe. Take three deep breaths and settle and clear your mind.
3. When you feel more present, open your eyes and look at the object of your concentration. Take a deep slow breath in and out. That is “one”.
4. Continue counting each breath: “two”, “three”, “four.” Let your encounter unfold naturally. Just behold the object of your concentration and observe it without mental commentary or judgment as you count. Notice its color, shape, sound, or smell.
5. While counting, become aware of your body and any sensations or emotions that may arise. Allow every cell of your body to open up to the encounter. Allow the experience to be as full as possible. Don’t hold back.
6. When you have reached “ten,” rest in the feeling of the moment. Then, if you’d like, take ten more breaths in the same way.
Want to learn more about mindfulness? Check out Jon Kabat-Zinn and his book Full Catastrophe Living, Glen Schneider’s Ten Breaths to Happiness, or Thich Nhat Hanh’s seminal book The Miracle of Mindfulness. There are different philosophies, so find one that resonates with you. The team here at InspireHealth can help you incorporate mindfulness in all areas of your life: physically, nutritionally, emotionally and—if it fits for you—spiritually. If you are a member, contact the front desk to book an appointment with one of our staff.
Genevieve Stonebridge, MA, C.C.C. is the Clinical Counsellor and Meditation Teacher at InspireHealth in Victoria.