Peace and calm can feel elusive at the moment. Our sense of certainty has been replaced with ‘unprecedented times’. Never before have we needed to remain in the present, without expectation or projection. That’s tough when we are understandably afraid for ourselves and our families. This is where a mindful practice can help. Mindfulness has been the single most powerful tool I have learnt. It doesn’t take you anywhere but brings you home to a place of clarity and calm, even if the world around you seems chaotic. Present moment awareness made me conscious of following expectation, believing false projections and running on autopilot, allowing my negative thoughts free reign, keeping me small, overly busy and afraid. Declining mental health brought me to mindfulness, which I’m now grateful for. In the beginning it was terrifying but I now consider it a wakeup call. To realise the line between ‘normal’ and feeling bonkers is a fine one. It felt as fragile as a finger drawing a line in soft sand.
I was not alone. Our default mode of living is often automatic with an innate need to dial down discomfort. We fade out and anaesthetise the unpleasant or boring parts of our day. When we sleep walk through life we run on the ancient parts of our primitive brain. It makes us reactionary, slow to notice internal and external messages and disconnects us from the vibrancy of life. We make poor choices yet fail to register the negative consequences. We miss the opportunity to be kinder to ourselves and this can often bring us to a wake up call.
At this point of crisis the journey to life long peace of mind can really begin. Because the only antidote is to wake up and pay attention to our experience. To become aware of our thoughts, our senses, unconscious behaviours, outside influences and internal pressures that keep us stuck in negative cycles.
Remaining in the present with gentle awareness helps us to be kinder to ourselves. In fact, under study, practising mindfulness has proven to increase activation in the area of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy. We remain aware of our vulnerabilities and begin to cut ourselves some slack. We notice saying yes when we mean no, pushing through despite the pain and listening to those really unhelpful voices in our head. We stop living in other places, wishing we could change the past or fearful of some future happening.
Everything worthwhile takes practice and you will need to stay extra vigilant at first. Gently bringing yourself back to the here and now when the inevitable happens and you lose focus. It is only human but with time you will find yourself switched off less and less. Unhelpful thoughts quieten down and you tune into body and mind, responding with kindness and taking action when needed.
One good place to start with an awareness practice is to notice three things about your internal and external experience in the present moment.
Internal – Take 3 deeper breathes. Extend the inhale slightly and push a little more air from your lungs. Don’t over do this its simply a marker to start your practice.
Take awareness to your body and mind. What is the first thing that you notice? Is it a feeling such as sadness, peace, agitation, happiness or even boredom. Is it the feeling of your bottom on the chair? It might be an ache from sleeping funny or hunger through a tummy rumble.
Continue with the practice until 3 prominent internal conditions are acknowledged.
External – With external awareness you are noticing the world around you. What can you smell? Perhaps somebody has just put the coffee machine on or you can smell dinner cooking? What can you see? When you are outside this extends to the natural world such as creatures, plants, clouds and trees. Is there an object in the room you haven’t noticed for a while or a simple interplay of light and dark casting shadows across the floor or desk?
Practicing this exercise is also a great grounding tool for when you are feeling overwhelmed and need to plant yourself in the present. Begin by doing this once and day and you will soon notice small cracks of awareness opening up in many other areas of your life.