To live mindfully is to live happily, to be present and to feel a greater sense of awareness, acceptance and gratitude toward others and oneself. Being introduced to mindfulness and guided through it's practices has been a liberating and empowering experience for me. It has opened up my eyes to a world that once seemed so complicated and incomprehensible, to one that is so full of curiosity, fascination and joy.
I was taught that the intention in mindfulness practice is not to forcibly control the mind but to perceive clearly its healthy and harmful patterns. I learnt to approach the mind and body with a sense of openness and acceptance, exploring what was there to be discovered, and doing so without so much struggle. In this way, it was possible for me to release myself from the grip of old habits of my mind and to know directly what I was doing as I was doing it, gracefully making the transition from unawareness to awareness.
Importantly, to live mindfully is still something I continue to work at and recognise as something that I will need to keep working at throughout life. Is it a skill, and like any other, if unpracticed will be lost and forgotten. With each and everyone of us existing as unique individuals and no situation identical to the other, I try not to ever enforce my own beliefs and values onto others and neither do I assume a 'one size fits all approach' when it comes to offering guidance or a way forward for someone. All I wish to do is to be able to bring my own experiences and knowledge to the forefront and know that perhaps the reader or the person listening to me is able to grasp onto it and take what they want to create positive and instructive changes in their own lives.
It is easy to fall into patterns of thinking negatively, to find ourselves trapped in the past or worrying for what the future might hold, to feel we must place the blame for things that don't go as imagined on external sources, to be too hard on ourselves or to behave helplessly in the face of more challenging situations. Over time, this way of thinking, feeling and behaving places a certain heaviness and tiredness on the human body, psychologically and physically, in a way that we can become tentative and afraid of what each new day has to offer. Joyful moments may become short-lived and infrequent and our consciousness overloaded with crowded, restless and busy thoughts.
What I describe above is a sensation that I am very familiar with. However, compared to my initial reactive and emotion-charged response to this whirlwind experience, over time I have learnt that I am able to break away from this downward cycle, step back from my thoughts and reconnect to how my body is feeling, allowing myself to respond rationally and intentionally. What has allowed me to do this has been to recognise that we can respond in one of two ways in these situations. Deriving from our innate and instinctual flight or fight response we can either let this state of mind and being overcome us, allowing it to rule out our every decision and interaction, or we can choose to acknowledge it, shift our bodies into a state of restful awareness, whereby we are able to reverse the byproducts of stress and replace these toxic thoughts with non-judgmental curiosity.
Of course this is one of those things that is much easier said than done and is easily challenged by the unpredictability of life's experiences. But like anything, if you really want it you must work for it. This is where I emphasize the value of practicing mindfulness daily. Don't think of it as a one off practice but something to uphold and keep working at throughout both the low's and the high's of life. It is often at times of high anxiety and stress that call upon our ability to respond mindfully but what has resonated with me from the very beginning is how we can use mindfulness as a preventative tool, and in that way not wait until we've hit rock bottom for us to recognise it's importance. This is not to say you won't ever have days where you're not feeling so great, however, what may be different now is that you have the tools to be able to deal with these more challenging times of heightened stress, allowing yourself to tune into what you're sensing in the present moment and to respond with acceptance and non-judgement in a calm, considerate and focused manner.
Setting time aside to practice mindfulness each day can be challenging in itself and can prove difficult for some. What we often don't realise is that mindful pauses can be incorporated into our daily routines in many more ways than just dedicating a set time each morning or evening for a practice. For example, during activities such as; brushing your teeth, sitting down to enjoy your breakfast in the morning, on your commute, whilst walking your dog etc., allow yourself to stop and pause and form a mindful intention before engaging in the task. Bring your focus exclusively to the task at hand, work on avoiding the tendency to multitask and lose yourself in deep thought, and instead begin to take in the multi-sensory experience of that activity in the present moment, bringing your focus back to re-centering yourself and strengthening your self-regulation. In this way, often without having realised, your daily activities will slowly transition into habitual mindfulness exercises. Instead of spending most of your days in 'autopilot' mode, consumed by activity and oblivious to the lack of congruence between your words and actions, these purposeful pauses will allow silence and stillness to enter into your life, meaning you can begin to truly notice your world. Importantly, mindfulness cannot change the things in your life however it can change your life by helping you notice the things in it with a new perspective.
I understand now that it is the ways in which we choose to perceive, interpret and respond to life that shape our everyday experiences and it is mindfulness that has allowed me to recognise this. It was never about emptying my mind or persistently trying to change my surroundings but about bringing non-judgmental awareness to the present moment. I am able to better identify what makes me happy, appreciate the opportunities that present themselves to me, respond in proactive and positive ways and accept the friendship and support of those around me with openness and gratitude.
Activities I treasure, which always inevitably allow me to enter into a complete
state of mindfulness, are to draw and to write.