I recently discovered mindfulness, specifically mindfulness meditation, through a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness isn’t a new concept to me. I had encountered it before and had a vague idea of what it meant, but I had never tried to apply it to my own life.
What intrigued me about it from the outset was the idea of simply ‘being’. What do I mean by this? We rarely sit or stop and just be with ourselves, separate from distractions in the form of a phone, laptop or book. We are constantly engaging in some form of entertainment or information processing, so much so that our brain hardly has time to breathe. The idea of being with oneself, free from all input and distraction, seems an absurd notion initially. Surely it’s just a waste of time, time that would be better spent on doing something productive? This constant business has become a staple of everyday life, one that we take to be completely normal. But maybe it shouldn’t be the status quo.
Before I get further into mindfulness, I’ll give a brief definition of it. Essentially, mindfulness is being present in the now, observing one’s thoughts and feelings, not getting carried away by them, all with an air of non-judgement and awareness. Thoughts and feelings can be so powerful that they completely warp our minds, for better or worse. What mindfulness means is realising that these mind-states are transitory phenomena, and that they do not define you. They are like clouds floating across the sky of your mind. We can get so caught up in thoughts and emotions, that they prevent us from really being present, from engaging with what is right in front of us. When this happens, life can literally flash right before our eyes, without us ever noticing it. The now is all we have.
But how can this state of awareness be achieved? Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends daily mindfulness meditation. This should be a time set aside every day, with no distractions or possibility of interruption, a time for yourself. Kabat-Zinn suggests sitting down in a comfortable position, but a position that suggests wakefulness and readiness to be in engaged in the present. I find a sitting cross-legged position (with a pillow for the floor) to be the most suitable. Keep your back straight, chin up, and imagine that you are sitting with dignity. It can help to visualise yourself as a mountain, and imagine that stability and strength as your own. Focus on your breaths, notice the movement of air when you inhale and exhale, and notice the path of the air as it travels from your mouth and nose to your lungs, and how your body moves with the movement of air. Simply be with the breath, and each time you notice your attention has wandered off, bring it back to the breath. Notice the present moment, such as the noises you can hear, the temperature of the room, the feeling of sitting on the floor, and any other bodily sensations you have. This is being mindful. It’s inevitable that your mind will get caught up in thoughts, but every time you notice this, just focus on the breath. Even just ten minutes of this a day can be extremely beneficial.
One concept that I found to be especially helpful in my life is the idea of voluntary simplicity. It is simple yet can be difficult to implement. It means doing one thing at a time. For example, if you’re eating lunch, only eat your lunch. Put away the phone/book/assignment and appreciate the sandwich, really taste the sandwich. You are far more likely to enjoy activities by adopting this philosophy. Meeting up with a friend? Be present with them, engage with them, listen to them, be mindful of your conversation. Have an assignment to do? Forgo Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and focus on your work (easier said than done).
But you can see how voluntary simplicity and mindfulness can be applied to everything you do, no matter how small. Use it on your walks or bus or bicycle rides to college and be present with the journey. You might notice some things you’ve never noticed before. Sometimes it is the seemingly small, insignificant moments that can end up mattering the most.
Senan Tuohy-Hamill – Features Writer