Practical Mindfulness: A Beginners Guide

Fire on Compton Beach

Fire on Compton Beach                      Photo: Sarah Archer

Mindfulness is certainly the word of the moment. In its simplest form it really means cultivating the ability to  a compassionate observer – of your thoughts, emotions, the world unfolding in front of you.

Without this kind of clear awareness it’s difficult to navigate life with any skill and equanimity – and almost impossible in a world overflowing with information and the seductive lure of tales woven by expert marketeers

So why all the hype? Put quite simply, being mindful enables you to actually live your life, as it happens, with a “beginners mind” so that instead of applying your mind’s (made up) version of how things are – which incidentally usually has a negative spin. You are free to simply experience what is. The simplest things can become sources of joy and splendour as you become open to what’s really there right in front of you.

This is where mindfulness can lead you – to a kind of clarity of being that can then enable you to move on, using that  freedom to relate more skillfully to others, to make choices from a place of clarity rather than the murky, turbid soup of thoughts and emotions that is the reality for most of us most of the time.

Whilst there are many formal “practices”or techniques that can be learnt  to cultivate mindfulness I certainly find it relatively easy to be mindful when everything is going my way – when the kids are quiet, the sun is shining, the house isn’t looking like its habitual post hurricane apocalypse.

Really useful practical mindfulness means cultivating and applying conscious awareness to every moment in life – especially the more challenging ones. It’s not that difficult to sit in silent wonder in the corner of a peaceful room only to find that as soon as you leave and enter the real world of screaming children and work deadlines you’re straight back into the old patterns of reactivity.

So – how does it work?

The idea is to learn to watch as life happens by noticing the physical sensations within your body, the thoughts and emotions that come and go.

It’s easiest to start with small every day events that don’t tend to evoke a huge emotional response – maybe choose something like cleaning your teeth or making tea as a starting point.

Firstly WATCH – simply notice with curiosity and without judging – notice whatever comes up – thoughts, feelings, sensations, reactivity,pleasant or unpleasant watch with awareness that this is not reality.

Secondly

RELAX don’t resist the feelings that are uncomfortable or try to cling to the more pleasant ones – simply let the experience be as it is.

Thirdly

NOTICE that everything comes and goes, sensation ebbs and flows like waves – your focus comes and goes, the mind continues to chatter away – sometimes you follow it, sometimes you don’t – it doesn’t matter, nothing matters except the awareness.

At some point you’ll realise that you can be quite OK with the present moment whatever it is. This doesn’t mean passive acceptance and inaction – but it does put you in a position of being able to act from a place of clarity. Once you are OK with it, that’s the time to ask “What do I do?” and if necessary to take appropriate action.

Simple really – you just have to do it – again and again.

There are some great online resources – and some not so great if you’d like to learn more about it and try some more formal training. I would recommend the excellent free course offered by Dave Potter:   http://palousemindfulness.com/selfguidedMBSR.html

or

Mindfulness – finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman  http://franticworld.com/

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