In Tina Fey’s glorious book ‘Bossypants’, she writes that ‘turning 40’ to her meant having to take her pants off whenever she got home. To me, that is what mindfulness is. Which will make sense soon enough.
Once reserved for the enlightened few, the art of mindfulness has seeped into the mainstream thanks to the influence of excellent mental health professionals who have worked hard to spread awareness of its benefits.
As such, mindfulness is a relatively new social breakthrough for those who lead ‘overtime-by-habit’ existences. Things are hectic enough as it is, and new things can be scary.
Our brains are already constantly ticking faster and more frequently thanks to the growing pressure to work late, be productive in our spare time, exercise and eat well, support our families, practice that one thing you think you should be better at (or those several things, if we’re being realistic). We have to stay on top of our life admin, and still be social enough to maintain friendships, and maybe even have something to post about on Facebook at the end of the week (silver lining: drinking wine alone with your cats apparently counts).
That can be why, for some, mastering mindfulness seems like just another responsibility, another potential failure, and another reason to beat yourself up. I feel you.
With seemingly endless responsibilities, finding time to rest is hard enough (see Martha’s great blog on the importance of doing this). To those who are new to practicing mindfulness it might seem too much to ask to add some time each day to sit and just be in the moment. What – a quiet, unused moment? I don’t know. It sounds suspicious.
The advantages of mindfulness are great, but as with any new and scary trend, how do you know if you’re doing it correctly? How do you find time, when the reason we need mindfulness is because we’re so busy in the first place? The irony of being stressed about something meant to calm you is not lost on me; but the truth is, developing good habits is hard work.
Maybe you’ll be like me at first, noticing courses and blogs on mindfulness for a better life (look, I’m helping!). You’ll discover a wealth of new apps on your phone wanting you to spend $14.99 a month for a calmer, more fulfilled life.
You’ll find your favourite stationery store has suddenly stocked up on special mindfulness journals, while the book shop where once you were free to browse new releases and foreign cook books has been taken over by mindfulness colouring books for adults.
It all just screamed “hurry the fuck up and relax”! *Stressed face*.
The good news is: you’ve got the wrong idea completely. But the bad news is: you are fast tracking yourself to ‘mindfulness fatigue’ – where being mindful seems overbearing and stressful rather than the pleasant and simple thing it really is.
Mindfulness shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a free pass to experience joy, reflection and relaxation, under the convenient (and crucial) umbrella of health.
I know you have a lot to get on with, but if it’s a choice between mastering mindfulness, doing the ironing more regularly, or finally learning the flute, I recommend you start with mindfulness.
Instead of trying to make space for a new experience, simply stop and pay attention to the ones you already have. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. No overwhelming challenges, no negative emotions. Just being.
With time and patience (and help from a certain mindfulness meditation course *winky face*), I learned that you couldn’t really fail at practicing mindfulness. It’s just living your life as you always have, but remembering to pay attention. Being able to really notice the things that give me pleasure means I feel pleasure more often. Whether it’s a serene moment, a delicious taste, an exciting sensation, or a prolonging sense of joy, it’s drinking in more of the good stuff. That’s all we ever really wanted anyway, right?
On another level, mindfulness is being kind with yourself, and even developing the self-respect to stop saying “I shouldn’t feel or be this way” to instead asking “why do I feel this way, do I want to keep feeling this way, and if not, how can I change it?”
So no, being mindful doesn’t require you to download an app, to colour in elaborate garden imagery, to write in a journal, or even get your life together. Mindfulness is simply being in the moment, and you don’t *need* to buy mindfulness tools for this, unless you want to.
Colouring books, it turns out, are not for me – despite page after page of awkward shading and colour combinations, my fancy pencils whittled down to a point, I only really felt deflated. And that’s fine – in the bin with it, and onto something that works for me. For some it is guided meditation apps, for others it’s journaling, and for many it’s nothing at all except remembering to be in the moment as much as we can.
When you laugh, stop to really appreciate how that laugh made you feel. When you treat yourself to your favourite food, take time to savour it rather than gobble it down (still guilty of this one). When you connect with another person, animal or story, stop to really feel that connection.
As for me? After I finish this blog, I am going to take a moment to enjoy a sense of accomplishment for finishing something, and then I’m going to mark the end of the day by taking off my pants. And I’m going to sit here for a moment, with no pants on, to think about how great it feels. Because I can.
It’s just like author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you`ll look back and realise – they were the big things.”
To learn more about the benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation, check out the upcoming Get Your Shit Together course, run by The indigo project HERE
Written by Bonnie Gardiner