For a long time now, my Dad - a practicing Buddhist - has been on at me to get into Mindfulness as a way to help me manage stress and anxiety. Mindfulness, according to the website for the book he wants me to read as an introduction to the concept, is “a mind-body approach to life that helps us relate skillfully to thoughts, emotions, body sensations and the environment, increasing our awareness, ability to manage difficult experiences, and make wise choices.”
Bearing in mind that on the day I planned to start reading it, I lost my Kindle and had to go to bed for three hours ‘cos I was so pissed off with myself, he might be on to something. (I was halfway through Catherine James’ delightfully salacious groupie memoir Dandelion with about 400 other titles waiting to be read. Now all I’ve got is a hard copy of the confessional poetry of Anne Sexton, and a tapestry I’m making in tribute to one of my other favourite drug addicts to keep me company.)
According to the teachings of the Buddha, who originated the concept as part of the (far too complex to explain here without overstretching my word limit) Dhamma, mindfulness is one of the seven factors of enlightenment, along with “investigation, energy, joy, relaxation, concentration and equanimity.” Put simply, the very ancient concept is one of those things that - should I master it - will not only make me a happier and calmer person, it’ll make me a better one to be around. Win-to-the-goddamn-win, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Mindfulness is also a concept that nicely compliments my beloved yoga and comes highly recommended by xoJane commentator Sarah, who uses techniques associated with it in her work as a psychologist to help people learn to manage their anger, and recommends anyone who’s interested in it read the books of Thich Nhat Hanh to get a grounding in how to integrate them into their everyday lives. I haven’t yet, but that’s because they were all stored on that bloody Kindle.
So, under no guidance other than that of the t’internet, here are two things I’ve already found helpful when it comes to getting mindful:
Acknowledging how things really are then learning from them:
OK, so much of what matters in mindfulness is about recognising and acknowledging how you’re feeling, particularly when things are going badly. Most of the guides I read on the subject hinge on mindful people being able to first identify their feelings (easy enough), and then non-identify them.
For a good while, I struggled to grasp the concept of non-identification. I think I still might be, so I’m going to adapt a quote from the quite excellent Chi Running enthusiast Katherine Dreyer to explain it:
Non-identification is the art of making healthy decisions and of seeing yourself from a balanced place without judging yourself. If you are defining your self worth by how well [something] goes, either negatively or with an inflated sense of pride, then you are identifying with how you [do something].
When you are non-identified, you evaluate your [experience], but not your self worth. You notice what you did well, what you need to improve upon and enjoy the process of learning and improving your running technique.
Identification and subsequent non-identification are crucial to mindfulness because they enable us to learn from our experiences (Oscar Wilde called them man’s name for his mistakes but we’re talking about the good ones too here). It’s a much better idea than wallowing in self-criticism, right?
Being as mindful as you can, as often as you can:
This bit is about remembering to take time for yourself on a regular basis. Women, I’m told, are especially bad at this. So, when I park the car after a long, stressful drive (I hate driving) or am taking my lunch break, I’ve been trying to do the following.
-Put everything down, including putting your phone on silent, laptop on sleep, and baby in its playpen (I don’t have a baby, but people who do take even less time out for themselves than the rest of us, so you get the idea). Under the tenets of modern functional mindfulness you’re allowed, nay encouraged, to do this multiple times per day, though not so often that it could harm you/ your career/ your loved ones.
-Take a deep breath, possibly practicing some of the undoubtedly helpful breathing techniques associated with mindfulness, and begin to acknowledge, identify and non-identify your thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is the first step on the road to even mindfulness meditation, which I haven’t mastered, but is, according to a woman I know who’s been at it since the sixties, fantastic. (Hi, Sandra!)
And that’s what I’ve got so far. One website recommends walking and showering (not at the same time, obvs!) as useful tools for mindfulness, on the basis that you can count your blessings while you do them. It’s probably a more useful recommendation than it originally sounds like. I know I have days when being in the shower feels like the only alone time I get.
I’m doing my best with this stuff, and even mindfully trying not to be too hard on myself at times when I just can’t seem to. Has anyone else tried out mindfulness? How’s it working out for you? I’ll try and keep you updated on my own journey into not being such a grumpy cow (and the whereabouts of my Kindle) over the next while. I may even try and incorporate it in to my, thus far, exemplarily bad driving.