I want to start by sharing a couple of paragraphs from Paul Verheaghen's book "Presence" His clear definition of Mindfulness in just a couple of sentences:
These days, the fashionable term for the meditative experience and its aftermath is Mindfulness - a sense of being present in the moment, of observing whatever is happening rather than getting caught up in it and doing so with gentleness and a certain detachment
Then he goes on to give us probably the best bit of advice about the practice of Mindfulness in this short paragraph:
This is aspirational, of course - it is nearly impossible to actually live a mindful life all of the time. It's a near-unattainable ideal. As a consequence, part of the practice of living mindfully is to learn how to fail with grace: Fail, get yourself back to a state resembling mindfulness, fail again, get yourself on track again, and so on. The hope is that ultimately something will come from this perpetual gently guiding yourself back to where you need to be.
This practice of repeated stumbling does lead to a more lasting habit of mindfulness
Well at least now we know that we don't have to be mindful all the time to be a Mindfulness practitioner or to benefit from Mindfulness, that takes some pressure off! So let's start with a few easy to follow tips to bring Mindfulness into your daily life.
One - From Mindless to Mindful
The first thing that we can work on is our habit of being on autopilot; going from one task to the next without stopping to pay attention. Have you ever got to the end of a car trip and wondered how you got there? Or left the house and wondered if you turned the oven off? These are common after-effects of not being present when we are going about our everyday life. Commonly known as "absent mindedness"
So what can we do to be mindful and less mindless?
You can start by using some simple aids to break the patterns of distraction, use them over time to develop your capacity to bring yourself into the present moment.
This is a personal favourite, easy to use and free to download.
MindBell rings periodically as a mindfulness bell during the day, to give you the opportunity to hold on for a moment and consider what you are currently doing, and in what state of mind you are while you are doing it. According to the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, this is an effective means of developing mindfulness.
There's also a similar app you can use on your computer, such as Bell of Mindfulness
This is a bell that reminds us to breathe and be mindful of our body and mind. In the busy time of our daily life, we let our mind float away to many distractions. We forget about our body, our breath, and our mind; we forget about the unity of our mind and body. In order to remind us of this unification, the bell of mindfulness is meant for us to bring our mind back to our body. When we hear the sound of the bell, please stop what we are doing and take three breaths to bring our mind back to our body. Let this unification happen and be happy in the present moment. Download here
There are many different apps you can use, do a search if none of the above work for you and start being mindful today.
Two - Routine
Now, this requires a certain amount of commitment. If you don't believe in the benefits of Mindfulness then you won't make any effort to bring it into your daily life. However I'm going assume you do think Mindfulness would be beneficial to you and if this is the case, then you may have to make some life changes to fit Mindfulness in.
Perhaps it's a simple routine change, like getting to bed a little earlier so you can wake up in time to sit for 10 or 15 minutes before your day starts?
Interestingly Paul Verhaegen starts his book "Presence" by stating that he began his meditation by practicing 6 minutes a day and slowly building this up. I have to agree that for people who are just starting a meditation practice, slowly introducing short sessions is much more realistic.
Meditation is the tool that leads to Mindfulness
Then think about how you spend your day, how much of it is used efficiently and how much of it is used in time wasting?
At the end of your day can you spend a little time quietly reflecting on your day and then letting your day go before you go to sleep?
How about introducing mindful walking or mindful eating?
What about bringing some silent time into your day? A little bit of silence can be a very healing part of our mental health.
Be honest with yourself, commit to small changes and don't beat yourself up if you fail, remember to fail with grace. Get back on it and keep going. Over time it will become a new healthier habit.
Three - Nature is a Healer
I am sure you don't need me to remind you how important it is to connect with nature, an essential part of a healthy mind and body.
Wherever possible try to go out for walks, do some gardening, take trips out of the city, do whatever you can to get into nature.
Being in an office or inside all day is a very unnatural way to live. We need to breath fresh air, we need to walk on the grass and look at the beauty of nature. If you think you are too busy to take 10 minutes a day to get outside then you really are in need of some Mindfulness. Look at your routine, how much time do you spend watching TV? Can you swap some of that time to be outside in the fresh air?
And London (if you live in London) has many beautiful open spaces, get out there and explore.
Of course it's not always easy to make changes in your life, even when you know it's for the best.