I'm a Londoner, born and raised. I love city life, not yet tired of it. Having lived in Cyprus for ten years I know the difference between living in a busy city like London and a quiet, slow-paced place like Cyprus. I know how stressful life can be in London, just a simple train journey into central London is enough to break any sense of tranquility.
So how do we stay mentally healthy whilst living our daily lives here in London (and of course other cities across the world)?
The Origins of Mindfulness
Mindfulness can greatly enhance how we experience life, even in the city or perhaps especially in the city. To understand how Mindfulness can be incorporated into our busy lives, we first need to understand what Mindfulness truly is.
And to do that we need to look at its origins, Buddhism. I want to bring attention particularly to the Zen master Thich Nhat Han who is often referred to the master of Mindfulness. Many of us who study Buddhism can get caught up in the intellectualization of the teachings, studying, reading, trying to understand. However, Zen Buddhism reminds us that there is no need to study, to understand even because all we need to do is practice.
This short conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher may help to clarify what Mindfulness is:
"I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment, What is your method? What do you practice everyday?" - philosopher
"We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down...." Buddha
"What is so special about that, everyone walks, eats, washes and sits down" - philosopher
"Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking, when we eat, we are aware that we are eating.........When others walk, eat, wash or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing" - Buddha
So we can see from this simple conversation that Mindfulness is not an intellectual method, one that needs a deep study. It requires practice, every day, focused, committed practice. Working on the small things, becoming aware of what we are doing at any given moment and remembering to be kind when things don't go as we had wished.
Mindfulness is being rather than doing.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation is what we call the "formal" practice of Mindfulness, an essential part of the practice. However, it is a common misconception in the West that meditation is all we need to do to be a Mindfulness practitioner. There is little point in sitting on a cushion for an hour and then making no effort to be mindful in our day to day life.
I find that people are often discouraged from Mindfulness because they feel that they don't have time to meditate. Of course, we all have time to sit quietly for 10 minutes a day, it's because we don't know the benefits that we don't make the time. So maybe we should start with daily activities and slowly build in our meditation?
Mindfulness in the City
It is possible to live in a busy city and remain mindful, developing your awareness of what's happening at any given moment and alleviating your stress levels.
You can begin with simple things such as:
- Reduce noise in your life
- Switching off distraction, turn the TV, radio and Technology off for a while
- Establish a routine that sets you up for the day
- Do one thing at a time and focus on that one thing only
- Remember to breath before reacting
- Develop self kindness and become aware of your harsh self talk