By Rae Hadley
Modern Life is Tough. Lets face it. The information onslaught, bombarding us daily from all directions puts us in an untenable position, unknown before this age.
The level of surface connectivity we can have has grown beyond anything we imagined several years ago, and yet the capacity of the human mind, body, and emotions to manage this incredible shift lags far behind.
The upswing in the number of people involved in self-help, motivation, and support is staggering. There is evidently a need for us, individually and collectively, to seek and receive understanding and acknowledgement from ourselves and each other, aside from the necessity for practical, tangible assistance with life’s often rocky, twisting, and mountainous path.
The number of people seeking solace in ‘mindfulness’ has increased dramatically in recent years, propelling it forward from a niche ‘specialism’ into a mainstream activity which is able to be practised with no fancy or expensive training, no equipment, and no costly ‘special place’ necessary to do it.
What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is, at its core, the act of becoming aware of –observing– the self and the world around it, in a given moment. The action of being as conscious and ‘present’ as possible in ‘now’. And ‘now’. And ‘now’.
Through conscious attention and practice, the aspect of what we call ‘self’ has the opportunity to be able to see how it reacts to different stimuli, to become aware of how certain actions and reactions can supplant others in situations we find uncomfortable.
Mindfulness can increase our individual capacity to Recognise, Acknowledge, Investigate, and have Non-identification with our emotions (RAIN), increasing our ‘emotional intelligence’. I may feel angry, and yet I am not ‘anger’. At my core I am more than the emotions which I feel, and which, as time flows, pass through me.
Why be Mindful
Here is the science, at its core level: Our body has a lot of automatic responses, which are governed by the brain. The nervous system controls our internal, invisible actions, as well as some of the visible ones. Our nervous system is divided into the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ and stress responses, and our PNS is responsible for our ‘rest and digest’ responses; the ones that keep our system in a lowered state of tension.
At times of actual tension and danger we need our ANS, however for some of us our danger signals and responses remain elevated past the time when they are necessary for our survival. They can also become neurologically ingrained, fast-tracked responses to stimulus which does not need this intense, SWAT team approach.
Here is where mindfulness comes to the rescue. This process is the conscious effort and repetition of setting aside time to actively encourage your PNS to take over from your ANS, both of them becoming more aware of when they actually need to be employed in life. The conscious and unconscious aspects of this practise strengthen the neural pathways for each system, enabling the individual to more active choices about their reactions to different external stimuli.
It is important to remember that both of these aspects of ourselves are necessary. We are not trying to get rid of anything, it is more a necessary shaping and pruning to enhance and keep our uniqueness. The mess of anxiety and stress that can accompany modern life can all too easily eclipse the beauty of ourselves, and our lives.
How to be Simply Mindful
- Set aside whatever time you can. A regular routine will help it naturally become part of your day. A good length of time to start with is 3 minutes, maybe before breakfast.
- Find a comfortable sitting position, maintaining a straight but not rigid spine, and either close your eyes or allow them to slowly unfocus.
- Observe your breath as you naturally inhale and exhale, without trying to change it in any way.
- Focus on your breath, and when your mind wanders–which it will–notice it happening, acknowledge it without judgment, and return to the observation of your breath.
- Over time, extend the length of these conscious moments. This will stretch your mind’s capacity for mindfulness, and you will see your ability to do so increase.
You don’t need to have a class or a teacher–there are lots of apps you can use if that helps you feel contained and supported– you can simply set an intention for this basic practise and start using mindfulness as a life enhancing tool for personal growth, and to diminish areas of difficulty, such as anxiety and stress.
The most important part to remember with mindfulness is that regardless of the numerous different schools and approaches–there is no wrong way to be mindful. There are multiple individual ways that you can practise it and a lot of it comes down to what we each individually want to achieve, which in turn is linked to the part of our individual life’s self-actualisation process in which we are engaged. Expectations of what mindfulness can do for us are often difficult creatures to untangle, and yet can easily derail our best efforts in self progression. Where we are is where we are, and is where we start from.
The practise of mindfulness is not just for the times between the ‘gong’ timer starting and stopping. It is a whole life practise, and ‘practise’, as in taking time to improve as well as developing the mechanics, is the essential word. It is a dedication to making this a routine which will make the biggest difference.
Mindfulness can facilitate a fundamental change in our lifestyles as we learn to be more secure with ourselves, accept external views as exactly that –views– and manage life’s rejections better. When we take a walk or sit down to our morning coffee we are more able to enjoy them in the moment– as they are –without staring at our to-do list, checking The ‘Gram, or trying to cram a million thought-drifting ‘wants’, ‘shoulds’, ‘coulds’ or ‘not-good-enoughs’ into those unique, and precious moments.
Practise on your own. Take some ‘time out’ before or after breakfast. Engage in mindfulness on a walk in the fresh air. Practise in your room. Focus your mind on the ride to work. Regain your emotional equilibrium during a 10-minute break from the computer. Only practise, that is all.
Nb: If you are suffering from severe distress or from any level of mental health difficulty, please speak with a health practitioner in your area before commencing any mindfulness or meditation practise, and ensure you are receiving the right level of support.