The Art of Being Present
How mindfulness can help us to regain a little calm
Production Liz Alvis Parry
Mindfulness is one of the biggest buzzwords of recent times. In our hectic-paced world the ancient practice of being present and living in the moment is being seen by many people as the antidote to stress, anxiety and depression.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is often referred to as “the godfather of modern mindfulness”, defines mindfulness as: “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
It’s quite a simple concept, but it can be quite tricky to master. Many of us spend a great deal of time with our minds in a whirl of different thoughts – worrying about tomorrow’s work deadline, planning what to cook for dinner or fretting about an argument we had yesterday. What we are not doing is focusing on the present moment.
This behaviour is fairly common in our modern world, but it’s also the reason why so many of us are experiencing problems such as anxiety, stress and depression. The practice of mindfulness encourages us to return to the present moment, whilst acknowledging any judgmental or self-critical thoughts without getting caught up in them.
Mindfulness also involves paying attention to what’s happening in our bodies. By being more aware of how we are feeling and responding to a situation we can take steps to address any stress, anxiety or anger before it escalates out of control.
So how can you master mindfulness? There are courses available which are likely to involve a combination of meditation practices and mindfulness exercises, as well as sharing your experiences. Speak to your GP about finding a local course, or contact the mental health charity Mind. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for how to be more mindful in everyday life.
When you’re having your morning shower, instead of thinking about the day ahead, shift your thoughts towards the present and the sensations you are experiencing. How does the water feel on your skin? What does the shower gel smell like? How does your scalp feel as you wash your hair? You will probably find other thoughts creep into your mind, but simply acknowledge them and bring your focus back to the present.
Rather than gobbling down a sandwich at your desk, or eating your dinner in front of the TV, try practising mindful eating. Sit at a table and focus all your attention on the act of eating. Concentrate on each mouthful, enjoying the flavours and textures of your food. Put down your knife and fork between each mouthful and really savour the experience.
Next time you go for a walk, focus your attention on how the ground feels beneath your feet and what the scenery around you looks like. Listen to the sounds and notice any smells in the air. As you walk, focus on your breathing and immerse yourself in the experience. Remember, don’t worry if intrusive thoughts pop into your head: just acknowledge them and let them go.
Give these exercises a try and see how being more mindful can help you to enjoy a happier, healthier, more present life.