Mind Clouds

Thoughts on mindfulness in daily life


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Practice Pieces: Opening Your Eyes

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Of all the senses, for most of us, vision – seeing – is probably the dominant one. And yet, a lot of the time we don’t really see what’s in front of us, let alone what’s to the side, above or below.  And so we miss out on enjoying the richness that’s there just waiting for us to open our eyes.

When we’re on automatic pilot we could walk through a field of bright red poppies without registering the spectacle, or through a sea of people and not take in a single one of them (let alone the guy in the gorilla suit!). Remembering to open up to seeing what’s around us can be a very rewarding mindfulness practice.

Sometimes though it just seems like there’s too much to notice – it’s overwhelming – and so we close back down. Or it might all seem very familiar and mundane. So it can be useful to have some approaches to working with mindful looking. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Decide on a particular colour, say yellow, and look out for it that day. You may be amazed at how splashes of yellow in many different shades start popping out at you all over the place. It makes everything around you seem more vivid as well. You could choose a different colour on each day of the week. Maybe you’ll find yourself in a much brighter world by the end of it. (Idea inspired by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones)
  2. To free yourself from “tunnel vision”, remind yourself to look around – to either side, down below and up above – as you walk, sit or stand in places. You could adopt “holiday eyes” – like when you’re a tourist in a new, delightful place, relaxed and curious,  naturally letting your gaze wander around. Again, you might be surprised at what new things you see, even in a street you’ve walked down countless times before.
  3. Every now and then just stop and drink in what’s before you – crows circling in the sky, wind moving through trees, colours and shapes – as if you’re feasting on it all. But letting go of wanting to grasp at the scene by instantly photographing it, or by mentally forming descriptive words about it to tell your friend later. You could do the same with people when you’re listening to them, unobtrusively noticing little things about them, maybe the laugh lines round their eyes, or the set of their shoulders.

Of course, we can’t completely isolate our senses one from the other, so there will also be hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting going on. Focusing mainly on one sense though can also be a kind of gateway into noticing other sensory input too.

These are just a few suggestions of approaches to refresh our seeing eyes. If you have any thoughts on this or ideas of your own to share I’d love to hear them.

Photo credit: Norfolk Poppy Field by Nick Ford

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Practice Pieces: Spacious Grounded Walking – Tai Chi Style

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Lime Tree Avenue by Duncan Harris

I was introduced to this mindful walking practice a few years ago on a weekend retreat by Tai Chi teacher and long-time meditator, Alan Smith. It made a strong impression on me and so I’d like to share it with you.

Alan pointed out to us that most of the time, when we walk about in our daily lives, we’re kind of leaning forward, as if willing ourselves into the future. He suggested that this unbalances us and so we have a less stable base to move from. Exaggerating this, by also holding our arms forward and leaning more, he demonstrated with a light push how easily we can be destabilised.

He then showed us a style of walking infused with the spirit of Tai Chi, in which with an upright, open upper body, we sink down slightly through the hips and the bending of the knees, allowing the ground to absorb our weight, before stepping forward. Walking like this naturally cultivates a sense of strength, relaxation and groundedness. Also, with the sinking down, there’s a kind of spring back up as you move forward, which is subtly energising.

Experimenting afterwards, what I found was that walking around like this, I have a more 360⁰ experience of the world around me. With my head lightly balanced and looking forward I am able to open to my senses. I see more – people, details on old buildings, splashes of colour, the sky in all its changing forms – and notice sounds of birdsong and chatter, different scents, the feel of air on skin and all the myriad changing details of each moment.

This is not so different from walking meditation as you may already know it, except here, rather than the focus being on the lifting and placing of the feet, it is more on this centred feeling in the core of the body, holding yourself upright, even slightly back, with a kind of soft strength as you sink down and move forward. Your chest and heart are open, your shoulders relaxed, arms loosely hanging by your sides.

Try this in your own home or out in the garden first to get the feel of it. Then once you have the essence of it, you can bring this into your everyday walking, even when you do need to walk fast to get somewhere. After all, jutting your head forward and leaning into the future doesn’t actually get you to your destination any faster and this way you can enjoy the journey more.