MINDFULNESS IS one of the latest buzzwords but what is it and why has it become so popular?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is at the core of many Buddhist practices and includes many forms of meditation. It is also about learning to put your focus onto the task at hand at any given time, spending more of your life consciously, in the moment, fully experiencing what you are doing, without simultaneously worrying about what you need to do next, or what might have gone wrong in the past.
Why do we want to be more mindful?
Hands up all of you out there with a smart phone that has e-mail, internet, social media, text, oh and by the way, it also makes phone calls! I’ll bet there are quite a few. It’s almost become an essential tool for a freelance. But what has this gadget done to our lives?
When I started my career in the mid 80’s, if you left the office, you were not contactable, mobile phones existed, but were in their infancy, so few people had them. If you needed to contact someone, and they were out of the office, you wrote them a letter. This letter took a day to arrive, and even if answered immediately, took another day to come back to you. E-mail was barely on the horizon. In offices where information had to be obtained urgently, they used Telex!
Even as I write this, I find it hard to believe we worked like this, so I can understand how someone born into the current plethora of technology may struggle to imagine life without it.
However, there was an upside. You could plan your day, and set time aside for specific tasks with far less chance of being interrupted than you can now. When you were out, you could give clients and colleagues your full attention, because you weren’t trying to simultaneously answer ‘urgent’ queries from the office in your absence.
Anyway enough of the history lesson, or was that just old person nostalgia? Either way, the point is that technology has made it much easier for us to be in constant, indiscriminate contact with everyone, to work non-stop, to relentlessly network and interact. Added to the myriad of demands of every day life, it means that we can sometimes struggle to maintain perspective, focus and even our identity.
So what’s to be done about this? The answer for some is to practise mindfulness. There are two main aspects to this:
- To habitually take time out of your day to deliberately do nothing, by which I mean, meditate. There are lots websites and apps that can help you with this. The Independent suggest their best 10 apps here. There is a growing body of scientific evidence about the benefits of meditation. It lowers our blood pressure, improves our immune system makes us calmer, helps us gain perspective, and allows us to hear our own inner voice, which often carries some of the answers to problems, that have been alluding us.
- To do things mindfully, by which I mean recognising that carrying out a task is going to take a certain amount of time, so devote that time just to that task, focus fully on it, and nothing else. Don’t multi task, leave all thoughts, plans and worries about anything else you need to do aside while you do this, and just see how the quality of the experience changes for you. You will be amazed.
Doing this can transform your life. People rediscover joy in tasks that had become time-pressured chores. It can transform relationships. Consider a situation when a family member is trying to talk to you about a sensitive subject. As they talk to you, you carry on preparing a meal, while mentally trying to solve a work problem you have been mulling over. Ever done that? I know I have. Imagine instead taking a seat and really listening to what that person is saying. Imagine the difference it would make to them. As Richard Moss, an internationally respected spiritual teacher said, “The greatest gift we can give is the purity of our attention.”
So really, there’s much to be gained, and nothing to be lost by giving this mindfulness thing a go. If I’ve whetted your appetite, a good place to start is Headspace, where you can sign up for 10 days of short mediations for free. And of course you can just slow down, and start to think about what you’re doing as you are doing it, and start to notice more and more about where you are putting your attention.
We’ll be holding mindfulness workshops around the country from the autumn so look out for updates.