Making time for Mindfulness

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(image from http://www.123rf.com)*

I used to love daydreaming as a child. I would spend car journeys happily gazing out the window, watching the world go by and I could while away the time in my bedroom just staring into space i.e. thinking about the latest heart-throb. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who also spent many happy hours listening to my Walkman, hairbrush in hand, singing into the mirror and pretending to be Madonna or Kylie in concert! I don’t ever remember thinking what a bad use of my time this was though.

But then adulthood arrived and life got busy……very busy! So much so that I can’t actually remember the last time I got lost in a daydream. There is always something more important to do and an immediate feeling of guilt/shame at the mere thought of ‘wasting time’. The to-do list never seems to stop growing and, with it, a sense that happiness and peace will finally come when I get to the end of the list…..but I never reach the end. In fact, I never seem to get anywhere close and it brings to my mind the saying Life is a journey, not a destination.

In this busy, modern world it seems to me that many of us spend our time longing for something yet to come……the weekend, the holiday, the summer (the end of the to-do list!) etc. which robs us of the joy of the present moment.  And with so much expectation on future events, it is hardly surprising that they sometimes turn out to be disappointing. Mindfulness helps us learn to accept things as they are and teaches us to not always buy in to the desire to change them, make them better or block them out altogether. Contrary to the common misconception that being mindful means to simply stop and smell the roses, what it actually means is to be more accepting of everything, even the things we don’t like but cannot avoid. Another, similar repercussion of the modern world is the ‘quick fix’ mentality and belief that we can and should avoid uncomfortable feelings at all costs but this type of avoidance can lead to addictions and/or unhelpful habits. Perhaps we buy things to rid us of sad feelings or we eat and drink to escape negative emotions which is ok in moderation but can become a problem when we need to buy more or eat/drink more to constantly numb the feelings that make us uncomfortable. There is a great sense of freedom that can be found in simply learning to accept things as they are.

I remember visiting a monastery a few years ago and being struck by the wonderful simplicity of the lives of the monks. They ate in silence, thus truly savouring their food, and they made their daily routines a thing of beauty. Rather than mundane and irritating tasks, their regular chores (e.g. cleaning, cooking, gardening etc.) were practices in mindfulness that helped to keep their minds at peace and the monastery looking beautiful. This obviously is mindfulness at its extreme but I do believe that bringing less radical elements of the monks practices into every day life can be very beneficial. It is simply a question of making the time….which reminds me of another saying, this time an old Zen one:

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.

Ironically, when we feel we really are far too busy for mindfulness, that is when we need it the most to help us regain perspective and balance. When we are constantly striving towards future goals we often miss out on the simple things and this is when life can become one long and stressful schedule. There are times when we need to press the pause button and step off the treadmill ….which brings to mind one last saying:

Sometimes it’s ok if the only thing you did today was breathe.

So remember:

1. Make time for mindfulness practice. Even a simple breathing exercise or a short mindful walk can help you to centre yourself during busy times.

2. As important as it is to get through the to-do list, it’s also equally important to give our minds a break and allow ourselves to ‘not do’ sometimes, which in mindfulness terms is known as non-striving. Meditation is a great exercise in non-striving.

3. Be kind to yourself and accept the fact that some days you will achieve more than others. That is just part and parcel of the natural rhythm of life.

 

*Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_aleutie’>aleutie / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

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