One of the reasons that Bristol is so loved by so many is for its interesting graffiti. If you’ve been to Bristol Temple Meads train station recently, you may have noticed this piece of graffiti.*
It is so easy to go around with our eyes and ears half closed to the world around us – and I say that as someone well acquainted with mindlessness. The practice of Mindfulness is one that has been around for a long time and now seems to be everywhere –perhaps for good reason.
It’s a form of meditation, and is rooted in the Buddhist tradition. I first discovered it when I visited Plum village, a very special community near Bordeaux, founded by a Vietnamese monk called Thich Nhat Hahn. He is known as ‘Thay’ which means teacher, and people come from all over the world to hear him speak.
Put simply, Mindfulness is about paying attention: to the present moment, to the world around us and to our thoughts and feelings. It can be tempting to place all our attention onto the past or the future, so much so that we lose sight of what is in front of us. A great deal of mindfulness is about tracking or following the breath as we breathe in and out. As we do this the mind will wander. As soon we notice this, we return our attention to our breathing. It’s not about stopping or restricting our thoughts, but letting them pass by, acknowledging them without judgement, and returning to the present moment.
Very often we experience thoughts, feelings or emotions that we label ‘bad’ and that must be stopped or suppressed, and the act of fighting these emotions only makes them stronger. What if we just accepted these thoughts, without judgement, in the knowledge that they would soon pass? In Mindfulness the mind is likened to a blue sky. Sometimes this sky is obscured by clouds of thoughts, but underneath, the calm blue sky of the mind remains.
The way that we think and the thoughts themselves can cause so much stress. In Mindfulness we learnt to stand back from our thoughts and see them as mental events. They don’t define us. It’s a bit like the difference between being caught in a thunderstorm, and watching a thunderstorm through a window, from the safety of your house.
Mindfulness is simple, but needs practicing regularly – just 10 minutes a day may make a real difference to how you experience your ‘inner chatter’. Try not to get annoyed with yourself if your mind wanders. My own mind sometimes leaps around different thoughts like a circus monkey on a trapeze. It can be frustrating, but don’t give up! Why not have a go now?
Set an alarm on your phone to go off in 5 minutes.
Sit comfortable (you want to be in a comfortable position, but not so relaxed that you fall asleep) with your eyes closed.
Direct your attention to your breathing and just notice it… you don’t have to do anything else.
When thoughts, feelings, physical sensations or external sounds occur, simply accept them. Let them come and go without judging or getting involved with them.
When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply bring your attention back to your breathing.
You may get annoyed that you keep getting distracted, but try not to judge yourself or anything that is happening. It’s natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them – that’s what our brains do.
No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing. Keep going until the alarm goes off.
The Headspace website and app is a good way to get going.
*It says: NOTICE. Thankyou for noticing this notice. Your noticing it has been noted.