Mindfulness is a gift to ourselves, extending to everyone else in our lives. The key to it lies in our regular practice.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of books, articles, websites and blogs, and so, a lot of people have heard of mindfulness. We read about it, we listen to talks, but that doesn’t necessarily give us a true understanding of what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is something that needs to be practised in order to be appreciated. The good news is, the more regularly we practise, with skilful guidance, the more benefits reveal themselves.

Think about it, when we are not mindful we tend not to notice things:

  • We don’t notice that our minds are constantly labelling and judging our experiences
  • We don’t notice that our minds are constantly looking for threats or problems and, if it doesn’t find any, it will look for potential threats: ‘what if I forget to do this…’, ‘what if I make a fool of myself’, ‘what if they think I’m stupid’, ‘what if this headache is something more serious’…
  • We don’t notice that a lot of our thoughts are repetitive (well, let’s face it, trying to solve a potential threat that hasn’t actually materialised is pretty much impossible, so the mind goes round and round in circles)
  • We don’t notice that a lot of our thoughts leave us feeling worried, anxious, uncertain, disappointed, fearful etc
  • We don’t notice how our thoughts drive us and keep us in striving, busy, doing mode as we try to fend off all the potential threats and we try to control everything

This might sound like a gloomy picture and we might wonder why we would want to notice all these things. The good news is that when we practise mindfulness and do pay attention, we begin to see that thoughts are just that – thoughts. Often we’re so caught up in our thoughts it can feel as though we are our thoughts, not that we have thoughts. Also, when we step out of these automatic ways of thinking and doing, we begin to notice and appreciate the things in our lives that are going well and that brings us pleasure – especially the small, ordinary, everyday things.

Things are not always as they seem

How often in life things aren’t always as they seem? And yet, very often we are so sure that we are right about so many things and how this sense of ‘being right’ can take over us and blinker us, so that we only see or hear what we want or expect to see or hear. When someone is late or snappy with us or taking too long to do something, it’s so easy to get critical and judgemental – labelling them as ‘inconsiderate’, ‘unkind’ or ‘incompetent’. We take things personally, we focus on all the things the other person is doing wrong and how this affects us. Our thinking becomes self-centred and narrow.

However, if we are able to take a step back we may remember that we don’t know what people have going on in their lives that has caused them to be late or irritable or dithery. When we widen our focus we may remember our shared humanity – that everyone wants to be well and happy and free from problems and yet as human beings, we all face the challenges as well as the joys of life. When we remember this we may be more inclined to connect rather than disconnect and to experience people with our hearts and not just our minds. We make space for compassion and when we do that, we feel less aggrieved.

“Too much self-centred thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others' wellbeing is the source of happiness.”
Dalai Lama

A big part of mindfulness practice is about learning to step out of automatic pilot mode and to begin to notice the patterns of thinking and reacting. We’re not trying to stop our thoughts, we’re changing our relationship to our thoughts. Instead of being swept along helplessly, like a raft on a fast flowing river, we learn to step onto the bank and appreciate the view with all other people in it, the feel of the sunshine on our faces, the sound of water tumbling over rocks and the pulsing in our bodies that reminds us that we are alive.

Sarah-Linda Johnson
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