A GUIDE TO MINDFULNESS

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

You’re leaving the house with that stinking feeling that you’ve forgotten to do something. After going through a mental checklist of all the usual suspects: turn off immersion; lock door; turn the alarm on; call that special someone… You still can’t remember what you’ve forgotten. If only you hadn’t been busy daydreaming about the conversation you are going to have with your best friend over a coffee in two days time. If only you had been mindful.

‘Mindfulness is a skill that everybody has, so we all have some degree of mindfulness’ says Galway based mindfulness teacher Martin Delaney. ‘If you think of an all Ireland football final and someone is going up to take the last kick of the match and put it over the bar, you can imagine if his mind starts racing ahead and worrying about the outcome he’s going to fluff it,’ says Martin.

Mindfulness can be described as the practice of bringing a certain quality of attention to moment-to-moment experience. If you want to put the ball over the bar –or remember what it is you forgot – you’re going to need certain amount of mindfulness. It is the exercise of emptying the mind’s space of habitual inner thought processes which often distract us from the present. Spring cleaning for the brain!

Although it has Buddhist origins, mindfulness has many secular interpretations and has been proven to be beneficial as a therapy for those suffering from anxiety or depression. One of the most common practices of mindfulness and perhaps the most accessible is mindfulness of breath. An individual who practices mindful breathing tries to empty their head of all thoughts by focusing on the sensation of breathing.

Buddhist statue in alcove
Photo by Johnny Worthington on Flikr

This special attention gives the individual a break from the usual inner chatter or worries he or she experiences in daily life. The individual hopes to achieve something called non-judgmental observation. To do this, one might hone in on the sensation of the chest rising and falling, or even the air as it moves in through the nostrils. When thoughts arise, he or she tries to label the distraction and then bring attention back to the breath. Sounds easy, right?

Mindfulness is the focus of study of many academics, especially with regard to its mental health benefits that non-judgmental observation has. But what is non-judgmental observation? Imagine this: you walk down the street and trip on the pavement. You feel embarrassed and wonder what onlookers think of your clumsiness, but you carry on. As a person meets your gaze you’re embarrassed again. You feel like a clumsy fool and they must think the same. That’s why they’re looking at me like that.

Psychologist Dr. Michael Hogan explains how non-judgmental observation can help: ‘a lot of that type of social anxiety arises as a result of an elaborate deepening of harsh judgments in relation to the self… It’s a case of as those thoughts arise – as they do for everyone – not elaborating on them and moving on’.

So instead of wondering what other people think when you think you’ve made a fool of yourself, practice not letting those automatic thoughts of ‘I’m a fool, I look like a fool, everyone thinks so!’ take hold. Mindfulness helps one to understand the content of what is actually taking place in the mind. Some of it is of course absolutely vital, but a large quantity isn’t going to make the best sellers list.

So choose your thoughts wisely. Hear something in there that you don’t like? Maybe give it a little kick and focus on your breath for a while.

This post was originally published on culturedvultures.com

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A GUIDE TO MINDFULNESS

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