Mind Clouds

Thoughts on mindfulness in daily life


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Mindfulness Emergency Kit

breaking point

 

Jon Kabat-Zinn is often quoted as saying that through your daily mindfulness practice you weave a parachute you can use when the going gets really tough. There is a cumulative effect of practice where gradually we begin to find it easier to stay grounded and calm in the midst of life’s daily stressors.

But there are those heightened, extra stressful moments when we feel we’re in danger of ‘losing it’. At these times, we need the mindfulness equivalent of a dose of rescue remedy.  So with this in mind, here are some easy-to-slot-in practices you can try when the going gets really tough.

  1. FOFBOC

This one was originally thought up for stressed teenagers in the examination hall. It stands for Feet on Floor Bum on Chair and can be done anywhere. Sitting in a chair, you consciously shift your attention to noticing sensations in the feet and their contact with the ground. This immediately takes you away from the whirl of anxious thoughts in your head and is in itself very grounding.  You can then take your attention to the sensations of contact with the chair felt in your buttocks and backs of thighs and an awareness of the support of the chair. If you like you could then spend some moments focusing on your breath as well.

  1. Take a Mindful Pause

This is also very simple. You just stop whatever you’re doing – typing a report, mowing the lawn, or generally rushing around trying to multi-task – and take 3 mindful breaths, feeling the movement and sensations of breathing in the body. Then carry on with your activities, perhaps noticing what a difference simply pausing can have.

  1. Walking Mindfully

Sometimes we feel very agitated and restless to the point where sitting still even for a few moments seems impossible. At these times, taking a mindful walk, whether slowly up and down the hallway or outdoors in the garden or more briskly out and about, can really help to bring us back into a sense of groundedness and greater connection between mind and body. As you walk particularly focus on the sensations in the soles of your feet and your contact with the ground beneath.

  1. Acting Mindfully

This involves noticing and labelling what’s happening in your moment by moment experience which can help to de-centre your focus away from ruminating or speedy anxious thoughts. For example you could lightly say to yourself, “now I’m walking down the stairs, feeling the bannister with my right hand, now I’m turning the door handle and now I’m walking into the kitchen” and so on until you notice your thought processes have settled. You can also choose to really focus on an activity you’re involved in, by opening up to sensory awareness – what you can feel, see, hear, smell, taste – as you engage with whatever it is you’re doing. There’s always a lot more to notice than we realise and this can vivify our present moment experience as well as helping to ground us.

  1. Taking a Break

When we feel time’s against us and there’s so much to do, we often think we need to just keep soldiering on. But common sense backed up by lots of research tells us not only will we feel better, but our productivity will improve by taking regular breaks. You can even make a lovely mindfulness practice from first making and then drinking your cup of tea or coffee, or even a glass of water. There’s so much to appreciate in the aroma of the tea or coffee, the warmth the cup in your hands, the flavours and taste sensations.

And if you’re too stressed and overwhelmed to even contemplate doing any of the above, simply stopping for one conscious breath can be surprisingly effective.

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Practice Pieces: Stop and Stand

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Yesterday, a good friend and I practised mindfulness outdoors in her lovely orchard garden. As I stood in “standing mountain” pose, I felt the uneven soft ground under my feet, the caress of the air on my skin, and with eyes closed, the whole soundscape of birds and wind in the trees seemed to swirl around me as I swayed and balanced, breathing.

It was like being a tree, the closest I could come to that experience both of rootedness and connectedness to the sky above. It was a rich and fruitful pause, as refreshing in its own way as diving into a pool of clear water. So simple though. Just standing – something we can do at any time.

“Standing meditation is best learned from trees” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go There You Are – his inspiring and accessible guide to daily life meditation practice. He suggests practising in this way alongside an actual tree, in a forest, by a stream, in your home or waiting for a bus.

We forget that we can do this – take a pause in the tumultuous flow of our day to stand and breathe. There’s something very centering, wholesome and even revolutionary in its way, about just standing, not for any other reason than to connect with ourselves and our surroundings in the bare simplicity of present moment experience.

There are plenty of potential opportunities to stop and stand. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

– Waiting on the platform for your commuter train – consciously letting go of that forward focused, somewhat impatient, waiting mentality where the present moment seems like “dead” time, and instead, relaxing and breathing and expanding your awareness out from your own body and breath to the whole swirling scene around you.

– At work or at home, when you’ve put the kettle on to boil and you’re waiting there with your mug and teabag ready, enjoy giving yourself permission to use that time to connect with the sensation of your feet on the floor, standing tall, breathing.

– On a starry night, step out into the garden or stand by an open window with the lights turned off and enjoy the different sensations of being enveloped in darkness, cool air and night sounds. Or in the morning going out to stand in the dewy grass perhaps turned towards the rising sun, feeling the warmth on your face and chest.

There are lots of other times and situations I could mention such as in queues, waiting at counters, brushing your teeth, in the shower, standing in a social group at a party, when walking the dog, or deliberately standing up when you’ve been sitting at a desk for hours.

You could even do a formal meditation period standing rather than sitting, especially if you’re feeling sleepy or the opposite – very restless. Standing we naturally tend to feel strong and grounded, when we do it with awareness.

And with all the research coming out about the harmful physical effects of our sedentary lives, you’ll be attending to your bodily health at the same time.


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Never No Time To Practice

Let’s say you sleep in and miss your precious morning meditation slot. Feeling disgruntled it seems like the day’s already got off to a wobbly start. You say to yourself you’ll meditate in your lunch-hour at work but then around mid morning you remember you have a report to write up before the end of play and so you’ll have to work through lunch, grabbing a sandwich from the staff canteen to eat at your desk. So you think, it’s ok, I’ll meditate this evening, I’ll be a bit tired but….

Then the evening comes round, there’s the usual scramble to get supper prepared and the kids off to bed. You’re feeling pretty exhausted by now so you decide to relax in front of the TV for half an hour to watch that documentary on primates you recorded the other day – after which you will definitely go and meditate for 20 minutes.

As you watch the antics of the chimps clambering all over the presenter your eyes start to feel heavy, that irresistible sleepy feeling creeps up on you and then you’re gone. Waking up with a start at midnight you grumpily say to your partner, why didn’t you wake me up? And so you drag your weary body upstairs, half-asleep you brush your teeth, pull your clothes off, drop them on the floor and crash into bed.

Does this sound familiar? Or a variation on that theme perhaps? With all the best intentions in the world to fit in some meditation practice, life seems to run away with us and like all those other “self-improvement” schemes such as going to the gym or starting a creative project it just goes out the window.

But there’s good news if you’re ready to hear it. There is not one single moment in your daily life (ok we’ll miss out when you’re asleep for now) when you can’t practise mindfulness, from when you open your eyes in the morning to when you close them again at night.

You can be mindful of the feeling of lying there in bed, just woken by the alarm reluctant to make that drastic move of throwing back the duvet and lifting yourself up. Mindful as you pad to the loo, then half sleep walk into the bathroom to splash cold water on your face and brush your teeth. Mindful as you shower, or get dressed, all the physical sensations of movement and opening to your senses. Mindful of your feelings towards your family as you greet them and of theirs too. Mindful as you drive to work, or catch the train… well I think you get the idea.

There is so much potentially to open out to in our daily lives and many small opportunities to insert a mini-meditation or two – like when you’re sat at the traffic lights, waiting for a kettle to boil or a computer to start up, in between two tasks, in a meeting when you’re beginning to feel disengaged and bored. Not to mention mindfulness of all the activities of the day. At any point in your day you can drop down out of the world of thoughts in your head to connect with the breath. Follow the breath very consciously for 3 or 5 cycles, then carry on with what you were doing.

So there is actually, I’m afraid to say, no time when you can’t be practising mindfulness.

One caveat though. We won’t actually be able to be mindful all the time and nor should we strive to. One day we might get to the point where being in the present moment, fully embodied, is so natural that we don’t have to make an effort – but for most of us that’s a long way off. Just as when we sit to meditate we notice that our attention is one moment here with the breath, the next off with a thought and know that’s ok, it’s all one practice, so when practising mindfulness in daily life, we get stuck in auto pilot, we notice that and come back to a fuller awareness of what’s actually going on in our experience. There’s a kind of back and forth, a focusing and then a defocusing movement going on all the time in our awareness. Beware of striving to be rigidly aware all the time, almost hyper-vigilant of yourself as that easily slips into tension, self judgement and ultimately disillusionment and frustration.

So if you’re ready to try this out, set your intention, perhaps work out a few tricks to remind yourself to practice, but having a relaxed, playful attitude to it all. Seeing the whole of your life as a kind of vast playground to explore.

Photo Credit: Old Time by Ben Kersey courtesy of FreeImages