We hear the word ‘mindfulness’ mentioned a lot these days, but what is it? How do you do it? And what does it do for you?
Mindfulness is defined as:
- the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
- a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.(1)
We can tend to do things on auto-pilot, performing tasks with our bodies while our minds are focussed elsewhere. When we do this, working with our minds and bodies disconnected, our heads can be filled with all sorts of thoughts, which are not always supportive of and healthy for us.
These thoughts may not have anything to do with what we are actually doing in that moment, and in that disconnection and distraction – and sometimes fuelled by thoughts that we need to try harder, do more, are not good enough, are never good enough – we may drive our bodies harder or for longer than they are physically able to perform, harming ourselves in the process.
When we speak of mindfulness, what is our mind full of? And where do those thoughts come from?
We think that our thoughts are ours, that they live in our brain and that we own them. But is that true?
Have you ever had a thought and then thought it was not your thought, that it did not come from you?
We tend to think that people are a bit mad when they say they are being fed thoughts, but the truth is that we are all fed thoughts, all of the time.
From when we are young, we are fed thoughts – ideals and beliefs about who we are, how we should be in life, how we should be with other people – and this process continues as we are raised by our family and move through the education system and through life itself.
We are fed thoughts about how attractive we are, how smart we are, how loveable we are.
We are fed thoughts that shape our perception of ourselves and other people.
We call this family, schooling, education, sporting groups, friendship groups, media, race, religion, culture, nationality, but they are all pools of consciousness, reservoirs of thoughts, that we choose to subscribe to, or not.
So when we say our thoughts are ours, they may be thoughts that we have said yes to, but the truth is, they are not ours alone, they come to us from a pool of thoughts we have subscribed to, much as we can subscribe to a social media feed or a TV channel.
Sometimes we have thoughts that we don’t like. And we can find it hard to stop these thoughts. We can be like Bob Newhart and just say: Stop it!(2) But with all the will in the world, that does not always work.
We may find that we tend to give ourselves a hard time, and have thoughts that we are ugly, weak, pathetic, stupid, useless, or whatever negative beliefs and ideals we have subscribed to.
Or we may have thoughts that confirm how innately beautiful, loveable, and grand we are.
So what is the difference?
It starts with how we care for ourselves, how we treat ourselves. The more kind and loving and caring we are with ourselves, with the way we treat our precious bodies, the less we resonate with unloving thoughts, and the more we resonate with loving thoughts. It is as if our bodies are TV antennas tuned to particular frequencies, and the more loving we are with ourselves, the more loving are our thoughts.
So if we don’t like the channel we are tuned to, how can we change it?
We can become more conscious or aware of our thoughts, acknowledge and accept them, as mindfulness asks us to do, but that does not actually change anything.
True change begins with the simple act of conscious presence, of bringing our mind into line with what our body is doing. We don’t have to focus on or edit our thoughts, just stay present with the task at hand.
At first this may seem mechanical, training ourselves to think about moving our hand while our hand is moving, but soon it becomes natural, and keeps us focussed on what we are doing, when we are doing it. As we say to apprentices: Keep your mind on the job!
In this way we develop a rhythm and a flow to our movements and rather than focusing on what we have already done, or what we are going to do, we are present with what we are actually doing. And when we do this, we may find we are less caught up in worrying about time and we start to feel a sense of spaciousness, of ease and flow in our bodies.
When we work like this, we are more aware of what we are doing, and not just the act of doing, but the quality of how we are doing it. We are more aware of how we are feeling, more tuned into our bodies and more sensitive to their signals. We become more aware of when we are starting to feel tired, sore, hungry, thirsty or whatever our bodies are saying that we need to pay attention to.
We are less and less willing to override those signals, and as we start to work in a way that honours our body’s natural rhythm and flow, our work becomes more sustainable, less exhausting, less driven, less hard, so that we may finish the day feeling pleasantly tired, but not exhausted or depleted.
We can then wind down in a way that prepares us to go to sleep feeling settled, so that we sleep soundly and wake refreshed, feeling ready willing and able to do it all again.
And as we start to live in this consciously present, rhythmic, flowing way, that honours our bodies and their natural cycles, we may start to notice that our thoughts are less unruly, less negative, less harmful, and more loving, settled and joyful.
By focussing on the movement of our bodies, and bringing our minds into line with what our bodies are doing, rather than focussing on the thoughts themselves, we may find that our thoughts naturally fall into line and become more loving as our bodies do, without having to consciously ‘work on’ anything.
Conscious presence is such a beautiful way to be with ourselves, and supports us to build a body of love, that moves in harmony with the rhythms and cycles of life, a body that is open to thoughts and perceptions that are loving, of ourselves and of everyone else.
We are designed to move, and to be present when we move. When we move in conscious presence, in alignment to the truth of who we are, we move with the universe, and the thoughts that flow though us are loving, spacious and universal, as we move in alignment to the whole we cannot but be part of.