What is Mindfulness anyway?

When the last round of fuel strikes was on, I found myself sitting in a long queue of cars waiting my turn at the pump. It was hot and noisy; I was late for a meeting and not even sure if there would be any fuel left when it was my turn! My brain was ‘whirring’, with the same thoughts going round and round in my head, I’m late and I’m not going to get any fuel now, how will I get home and what about my meeting? Why didn’t I come out earlier? Why didn’t I fill up last time? Round and round.

Then I managed to stop myself and take stock. I realised I was stressed and anxious, my stomach was knotted, and my shoulders hunched forward. None of these things would help with my predicament. I relaxed my shoulders, took a deep breath, and looked up at the trees and sky I could see from the fuel station. This, for me, is basic mindfulness; simply noticing what is going on in my brain, body and surroundings.

It can be easy in our busy, modern existence to spend a lot of time on ‘auto-pilot’, rushing from one chore to another, from home to work, picking up the kids, etc. etc. Any gaps we do have are very often filled with social media or other technological demands. The idea behind mindfulness is to practice simply noticing what is going on in that moment, not re-living an argument we had yesterday or worrying about an event we have tomorrow.

Like any skill though, it needs practice, repetition and strategy, to learn to avoid becoming trapped in our inner dialogue. By doing this we can take some control over our stresses and anxiety. But how do we start to do this? ‘Noticing’ is key here, learning to observe ourselves, almost from the outside looking back in at ourselves. As soon as we start to practice this ‘noticing’, we are on the right path.

We can make a special effort to notice the taste of our food, or even have a specific time of day where we will practice being mindful, perhaps by going for a walk or just sitting without any other distractions. As thoughts tumble into you mind, you can start to practice noticing them, but letting them go and not dwelling on them.

Trying something new can help cultivate mindfulness, as can being in nature. I try and use a codeword to help me notice I am back on autopilot, like ‘stop!’ or ‘relax’. It can also be handy to name our thoughts, ‘I am feeling anxious’, or ‘on-edge’. I sometimes hold the part of my body that is being affected, like my stomach or shoulders.

The first step is to try to notice, notice, notice. This ‘wake-up call’ can snap you out of yourself, help you look afresh at what is happening for you, and get you back to the present moment.

P.S. I did get my fuel and made it to the meeting on time; so all that ‘whirring’ and stressing was for nothing!

There is a lot of information online about mindfulness, and some websites and articles etc. are included in the Resources Pages of my website. Below are some links to videos that further explain mindfulness:

What is Mindfulness?  

What is mindfulness? Simple answers, profound meaning.

Mindfulness Animated in 3 minutes