There was a time in my life when I was so busy and stressed, I couldn’t stop for a single
minute. I mean that quite literally. I flew through the day, from one thing to the next on “autopilot” (going through the motions), and everything became a blur. By the end of the day, when it was time to sleep, I’d lay in bed awake for hours. My mind still thinking, wheels turning, about what I had done that day and what I needed to do the next day.
When I was introduced to mindfulness, I was confused. It never occurred to me that the healthiest place for my mind to be (and amazingly the most productive!) was in the present. Not thinking ahead, nor about what had already been done, but in the present moment.
Over the years, I’ve gone from reacting to everything around me, being driven by to-do lists (or overwhelmed by them), poor sleep, poor overall wellbeing, and being completely and utterly distracted when interacting with friends and family – to being fully present and enjoying each moment in my life.
Living in a mindful way, gives us the space to respond rather than react, allows us to connect with others, and have a strong, healthy relationship with ourselves.
So, what is it? What is mindfulness?
It is both simple and complex. It encompasses both science and spirit.
The mind can be much like a wild horse. Pushing and pulling in all directions with incredible strength. Training the mind, like training a wild horse, takes practice, patience, and compassion.
Part of mindfulness practice is observing the mind, really paying attention to it. Noticing what kind of thoughts are there.
If we imagine training a wild horse in a large pen, where it has space to move around in any direction, but it’s on a rope and fenced in. It can only go so far, but it is wild, so the trainer gives it slack on the rope to move around without damaging itself or the trainer. All the while the trainer and the horse are slowly becoming acquainted with one another from a distance, building trust.
In the same way, we observe the mind, watch where it wanders, what thoughts come up, what stories come to mind, is it going into the future, or the past? Are the thoughts anxious, emotion driven, or calm? Just noticing, not judging.
After some time, the trainer has a good understanding of the behavior and character of the horse. They will begin to draw the rope in toward them to the center, bringing the horse a little closer. It becomes a dance drawing the horse in, then it pulls away, and drawing it back. Each time the horse pulls away, the trainer observes, and patiently, gently, draws the horse back. The trainer knows, a wild horse will wander, so they gently, compassionately, without judgement, draw the horse back again and again.
Similarly, as we observe the mind going in all directions, we begin to bring it back to the present moment. The present moment is anchored in our breath. As we pay attention to our breath it keeps our mind focused on the present, the center. When the mind wanders away, we patiently, gently, draw it back to the present and focus on our breath.
Overtime, the horse becomes accustomed to remaining in the center with the trainer. Likewise, our mind becomes accustomed to remaining in the present with our breath.
Being mindful happens when we are present and aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking, and our immediate surroundings. In this way, we can savor and enjoy every experience. We can see, smell, hear, touch, and feel every detail of our beloved moments.
When we are in times of difficultly, being present and connected with how we are feeling and thinking, gives us the opportunity to make choices. It gives us the chance to respond, rather than reacting or erupting mindlessly in challenging or distressing situations.
When mindfulness was first suggested to me, my immediate response was, “That sounds great, I don’t have time for that though.”
What I came to understand is, if we have time to brush our teeth, shower, eat or drink water, then we have time for mindfulness. Basically, if you have time to breathe, you have time for mindfulness.
We don’t need to set time aside everyday to practice mindfulness, we can apply it to anything at anytime. With mindfulness, we don’t need to change what we do, we just need to change the way we do it. We are harnessing the mind to focus on the moment, rather than having it wander in every direction while we go through the motions of our daily life.
Daily tasks are perfect examples of this. As we brush our teeth, where’s the mind? Has it become the wild horse again, wandering away? Suppose every time we brush our teeth we pay attention to the bristles, the taste, the scent, the sensations, our breath. When we approach tasks with a childlike mind, exploring as though we have never actually brushed our teeth before, our mind stays present. Focused. Time seems to slow down, and we become calm, peaceful, centered.
In this process we come to know ourselves well. Like the trainer knows the horse, we come to know the true essence of who we are, our spirit, our heart, our wants and needs. We create a strong, healthy relationship with ourselves. A strong relationship with self, has a ripple effect. Our relationships with everyone and everything around us become healthier as a result.
Whether we are wanting to reduce stress, improve overall wellbeing, or cultivate our relationship with our spirit, mindfulness is a practice we can apply to our daily lives with simple and yet complex benefits. It’s an opportunity to explore the world we think we know, with a brand-new set of eyes.