When I first heard someone say they practised mindfulness I naturally assumed that they meant it in a general term, such as being mindful about their weekly budget, or being mindful to be kind to specific person as they perhaps were going through a bad time and needed support or whatnot. Something along the terms of the phrase “mind how you go..”
It would appear that I had misinterpreted what mindfulness is.
I have heard so many people speak of it but no one has really explained to me how it works. SO, me being me I decided to try and find out exactly what mindfulness is and how you go about achieving it because it may just be something that I might like to do.
I suppose the first logical step is to find out what exactly mindfulness is, my first port of call was the Moodzone page on the NHS website..
“Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.”
Crikey ~ that sounds like a tall order, how on earth do you monitor your internal dialogue and outer self, moment by moment. It sounds like you have to negotiate some kind of mental “Twister” whilst observing what your outer self is doing!
Then I read a little further, I have a tendency to jump the gun and so it would have served me better if I’d taken the time to read the full article before spouting out on here, but hey ~ that’s just the way I am.
So let’s just take it bit by bit, in bite sized chunks whilst I slowly work this out and get it straight in my head.
Mindfulness is understanding both our inner and outer selves ~ got it.
This wise old Prof continues to explain further “An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
Okay so I read the words and understood them yet for me its still yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah because I can’t imagine how to do it, but it sounds rather nice.
I want to understand myself more clearly but accept that I need guidance to;
a) not mess about because I feel silly or it feels “odd” and
b) to find a way to do this that is practicable for me.
I am known not to think logically or even in ways understood by others ~ instead I see things a little off centre and I often take the rather longer, convoluted way around things, it may take me longer but I usually still manage to get there, eventually.
It would seem that “Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.” That would have been good to know earlier ~ I’m only 31 years down the line with long term depression. Perhaps it could be helpful for me now, better late then never I suppose. Although I refuse to go off my medication no matter how good mindfulness is because it is the only thing holding me back from the dark pit. It’s currently roped off, you’ll be pleased to know, as my bouncer Amitriptyline is pretty good at its job.
Moving on, we now know what mindfulness is and now we need to know how to practise it. Allegedly just by taking notice of our surroundings, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tactile elements of the moment ~ everything you can possibly drink in from that moment. To allow the senses to take over and our eyes to register what is going on instead of walking along oblivious to the surroundings whilst you mull things over in your head.
It would seem by triggering your senses into taking notice ~ you are jolting yourself out of autopilot mode.
The next part I find impossible ~ to keep the times you practice mindfulness almost at a scheduled daily time. They suggest times such as when travelling to work or out dog walking or shopping. For folk like me with chronic illness no day is the same, no routine the same. Our days change moment by moment depending on symptoms and who or what is around you. I have dogs, anxious needy dogs who spend a large part of the day lying on top of me or following me around. Seriously ~ they even follow me to the loo!
All I can do is try to find a moment when I am alone in the house and the dogs are sleeping ~ then and only then could I give myself time to practice mindfulness. So for me regular would mean daily ~ at some point when timing allows.
We have to monitor our thoughts if we’re being mindful, to acknowledge thoughts and worries and then putting them gently to one side and not let them crowd your poor old brain. This part I can understand as my life coach discusses the power of the subconscious mind and how we have to carefully acknowledge it and know when to then tell it that it needs to change how it perceives certain issues in order to help us in a positive way instead of a negative one. It takes mental training, sort of taking your brain to the gym.
Our subconscious is all about helping and protecting us but we can’t expect it to know what to do ~ think of it as our inner child and that it only knows what we teach it. This means we have to change the manner in which we think in order to teach it the new thought patterns.
My life coach Kathy, practices hypnotherapy, initially I went for help with weight loss but it turned out that the weight was a symptom and not the problem. Understanding how the mind can affect all parts of your life without you realising it’s power is quite an eye opener.
Where are we?
Mindfulness ~ we now know is about monitoring your internal dialogue and to take in your environment by using all your senses.
The mindfulness website tells us “Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain“.
Now I have heard that meditation can be helpful in the journey towards of mindfulness but my attempt have been terrible. I do however, practise my affirmations daily and know that it takes 21 days to rewire the subconscious brain to change how it thinks. By believing what it is you want to happen in the present tense on a daily basis helps you to train your subconscious to believe it’s true until you reach the point when it becomes true.
I wanted to seek more information about mindfulness and came across this fabulous TED talk on Youtube which is about exactly that.
So, go grab a cuppa and a few biscuits and get comfy then click on this video to watch a wonderfully clear talk by Shauna Shapiro, PhD, a professor at Santa Clara University, a clinical psychologist, and an internationally recognised expert in mindfulness talking to us about exactly what mindfulness is and how practising it can help us.
Now in daily life we can practise mindfulness, I see that now ~ everyday I will add to my affirmations with my hand on my heart “Good morning Tanya, I love you”. Next I will make sure that I take time each day to switch off the radio, television, audible and any other noise maker so that I can sit down and just “be”.
Whilst taking some time out to practice this mindfulness malarkey I know from the fabulous Kathy (my life coach) that I need to focus on my breathing. Slow and steady breathing in through my nose, holding it and then slowly exhaling through my mouth. To breathe and what has worked for me, with Kathy’s help is whilst breathing to think “balance and harmony” over and over. It’s amazing how just by doing this I begin to relax and I really do mean relax.
Then whilst I’m in this state of quiet relaxation I try to just notice my surroundings and environment, how the chair/bed/sofa feels under me. Importantly if negative thoughts try to crowd in to accept them and gently put them aside. Every time my mind decides to take a walk I have to concentrate on bringing it back to the present moment. This is easier said than done, whilst doing this my mind wants to make lists, notices dust, imperfections that need attention and so on and on. It’s fair to say I spend an awful lot of the time bringing my brain back to the present than I am in the present. I am assured that this will improve with time and practice. I am assured this is how we practice mindfulness. It is something I acknowledge I’m not great at and will continue to keep at it until I am a master of it!
Now to meditation ~ I am shit at meditation, honestly I sit looking around at everyone else with eyes closed and bodies relaxed and I hastily close my eyes and plan dinner, changes in the house, where I want furniture putting and on and on until its time to open our eyes and say what a great session it was. Only it wasn’t for me with the exception that I could spend the time organising stuff in my head to do once at home.
Now, because I am crap at meditation I found this simple guide to how to do it and have copied it for you below..
A Simple Meditation Practice
“Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat.
Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
Straighten your upper body—but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs wherever it feels most natural.
Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. It’s not necessary to close your eyes. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering gently return your attention to the breath.
Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind wandering constantly that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgement or expectation.
When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.”
So, that’s something I will add to my day and try and fit it in at time when it is quiet in our home and I won’t be disturbed.
When it comes to breathing I can sometimes concentrate too much and end up hyperventilating. For me using something visual helps and I hope over time I can do the whole breathing regulation going in and out at the right speed. This visual is meant for children but, as I consider myself just a overgrown kid then this is also appropriate for me..
Whilst I was surfing the wonders of YouTube I discovered this fabulous video for self love and meditation to empower and soothe our inner child also known as our vigilant subconscious. It is exceptionally soothing and I personally enjoyed it and hope you do to.
Mind website also advocates the use of mindfulness to help with mental heath problems.
“Can mindfulness treat mental health problems?
Common mental health problems ~ Studies show that practising mindfulness can help to manage depression, some anxiety problems and feelings of stress.
Some structured mindfulness-based therapies have also been developed to treat these problems more formally. In some cases these treatments are recommended as evidence-based treatments by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Complex mental health problems ~ Research into whether mindfulness could help treat more complex mental health conditions, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder, is still in the early stages. It’s not clear yet how helpful mindfulness could be for managing these conditions – but you might find it works for you.
NICE recommends against using mindfulness-based treatments for social anxiety as there’s some evidence that mindfulness might make your symptoms worse rather than better. Talk to your doctor about what kinds of treatments might suit you best.”
Mind also shared the video below talking about how using mindfulness can help with mental health issues. In the video a women called Rebecca, who runs courses at Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind, talks about why she thinks mindfulness helps people with mental health problems and how she uses it to manage her own mental health
Whilst looking at mindfulness I came across mandalas and their use in meditation and how creating them works well alongside mindfulness.
Mandalas ~ what do you know about them?
I love the different patterns and colours that you can create with mandalas, not that I have ever made one myself. However, that is about to change as I have challenged myself to create a weekly mandala from objects and items found around the house and garden. To use it as a positive and creative way to have “me” time. Art therapy is wonderful, we were lucky enough to, thanks to Children In Need, have someone to come to the house and work with my second daughter post meningitis with different mediums from acrylic paints, chalks, fabric dyes and paints, watercolours, charcoal and so on. It helped her enormously and so I am keen to spend some time to work on a weekly project ~ just a little time each day and if I need longer, if for any reason I am unable to complete it then quite simply keep it going on rolling it on to the next week.
Mandalas are a form of Buddhist art, “In Buddhism, mandalas represent the ideal form of the universe. The act of creating a mandala represents transformation of the universe from a reality of suffering to one of enlightenment. While Tibetan Buddhists see the center of the mandala as an awakened being at the center of the universe, the center also represents the beginning of each person’s journey toward knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment. Often, mandalas are used as tools to focus the mind during meditation.The mandala begins with the center of the design, radiating out with symbols and designs as the pattern grows larger. They can be painted, drawn, and even made from colorful sand. Those painted on scrolls are often carried by travelers and pilgrims for a blessing on the road and a focus for meditation as they journey.”
There are 3 key symbols often used in mandalas which I have taken from Study.com are;
Wheel with Eight Spokes ~ The circular shape of the wheel works well with the artistic representation of a perfect universe. The eight spokes represent the Eightfold Path of Buddhism which involves a series of righteous thoughts and actions meant to guide someone to enlightenment.
Lotus ~ The lotus flower is one of the most sacred symbols in Buddhism. Its symmetry represents balance. More importantly, the lotus reaches up from its underwater, muddy bed to blossom in the light, much as a human who reaches enlightenment.
Bell ~ bell shapes appear in mandalas as a representation of openness and the emptying of the mind, to allow wisdom and clarity to enter.
If you are interested in Mandalas you may find this video interesting, it shows the “construction and destruction of a sand Mandala by the Dalai Lama, from Werner Herzog documentary “Wheel of Time“
I have a very special friend who is incredibly creative, she uses all kinds of different art mediums and follows a zen lifestyle. I admire her greatly and love seeing the mandalas she creates, often outside in nature or back home with her foraged items. She then creates her artful mandalas.
Another practice carried out by this specific friend is the use of her table top zen garden as part of her mindfulness and meditation. I have enjoyed when she has shared it with me. Seeing the patterns created in the sand, along with petals, small stones or sometimes beads. Every time she creates a pattern it’s different and always beautiful.
As I am fully focused on achieving some level of aptitude in both mindfulness and meditation I decided to treat myself to my own zen garden to utilise in helping focus on the moment and calm my mind.
When it arrives I shall, over time, collect small items to make patterns in it with. Although you don’t have to use anything other than the tools provided to mark patterns in the sand if you don’t want to. Having ordered it I now have to master patience as it’s due to arrive by no later 10th December ~ not tomorrow! This is the beginners kit I have ordered..
Finally, after all the talk of mindfulness and mandalas, I leave you with this lovely video showing mandalas created in nature ~ now that has inspired me.