I’m a ‘busy’ person by nature, and by that what I really mean is my mind is constantly on the go. We don’t go out much, we’re not part of any sporting groups, and we aren’t even what you’d call domestically motivated - yet I feel busy because my mind rarely rests.
This busy feeling has been compounded by the day-to-day drill of parenting, and a sense that every minute is occupied. If I’m not making lunches or packing bags, I’m wiping bums or breaking up squabbles; all the while doing so to the background music of my sometimes anxious, sometimes list-making, sometimes slightly insane mummy thoughts.
For a very long time I was living in a constant state of “I should be doing something” or “I’m supposed to be somewhere”. I struggled with the reality that there was always something that needed doing or someone that needed attending to. When I did finally get a moment to breathe, it was almost impossible to shut off the guilty feeling that came from the sense that I should have been spending my time doing the laundry, writing a work document, packing bags and lunches for the next day, or tackling the dumping ground that once resembled my kitchen bench …
It has taken some dedicated focus over the last two years to re-program my brain to not flick on the guilt switch every time I do something for myself, or put my own needs ahead of others. I’m not saying I’ve shut it down completely, but I have certainly made headway in understanding and truly believing that looking after my own needs, wants, passions and dreams is an important, necessary and not-at-all selfish part of leading a happy and healthy life.
What I haven’t managed to do quite so well, is deal effectively with my ‘busyness’. This has been a big challenge, and one I’ve been working on (and working on…and working on!) over at least the last six months or so. I think we can broadly refer to it as attempting to master the art of mindfulness.
The Oxford dictionary states that mindfulness is “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.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading authority in this field defines it as, “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
Me? Well, so far I’d define it as being mindfully aware of what is happening in and around you in the present moment. Observing thoughts without judgement (good or bad) as they enter your mind. Acknowledging the feelings and bodily sensations that come with those thoughts, and then releasing them.
Being mindful doesn’t necessarily mean sitting cross legged in a traditional meditation pose for a couple of hours each day. It can simply be making the effort to still yourself for 5-10 mins a few times a day. My focus has been on incorporating mindfulness in my everyday life. For example, when I’m walking to and from meetings at work, instead of filling those five minutes with thoughts about my ‘to-do’ list, I focus on the actual act of walking. Might sound a little silly, but it works. By being aware of how the ground feels under my feet, by focusing on rolling my foot down from heel to toe, by paying particular attention to putting one foot in front of the other - what I’m doing is being mindfully aware of the present moment and myself within it. So for me mindfulness is about slowing the thoughts; and activities like these can help achieve that. It’s about being mindful in situations that are sometimes unnecessarily busied by thoughts relating to past or future. It’s bringing my focus back to the present moment. It’s giving myself the opportunity and the permission to let go of repetitive thoughts, if only for small bursts of time each day. Stopping. Breathing. Listening. Feeling.
I often get frustrated by my inability to clear my mind, or not be distracted by my thoughts…but I’m told this is all part of the process. I need to stop trying to ‘block’ my thoughts and rather just observe them as I would observe something that passes through my line of sight. Observe the thought without judgement, acknowledge its existence, feel what it does to your body whilst it is held in your mind…and then let it go.
I’m learning. I’m open. I’m evolving. And one day I know my mind will be more still. I’d be honoured if you’d journey with me along this path to peace within. Here’s something to begin practicing mindfulness in your daily lives (also a great technique to teach your children).
Breathing is something we do innately and is therefore not something we are usually consciously aware of.
Mindful breathing is simply the act of bringing your awareness to the physical act of breathing. Breathing is always present in the moment, and as it’s something we all know how to do, it’s a great entry point into the practice of mindfulness.
Take some time out of your day each day, just 5 minutes (or even short bursts of time in-between activities), to stop and focus on your breathing. Notice how the air feels as it travels in and out of your nose and mouth. Notice how your body responds - how your diaphragm rises and falls, how your lungs expand and contract. Don’t try to do anything in particular with your breath, other than be aware of it. If thoughts enter, acknowledge them, observe them and then bring your focus back to your breath. Gradually increase the amount of time you dedicate to this activity as you become more relaxed and comfortable in doing so. If you have trouble getting to sleep like I do, try this technique lying in bed as a way to relax yourself before you switch off for the night.
Let me know how you go with introducing this into your day-to-day routine over the next few weeks – I’d love to hear from you!