Imagine an enchanted forest where trees abound; so many that the first thing you notice is their majestic trunks and canopies. Now close your eyes and try to capture the beauty of the forest as a whole, noticing the trees but digging deeper. Observe the soft light of the sun filtering through, the shapes and colours of the leaves, the shadows playing on the ground; smell the damp earth or the dry, dusty ground; hear the birds chirping above, or the swift movement of a squirrel.
The essence of mindfulness – being mindful – is a heightened state of awareness and clarity that can be achieved by calming your mind to the point where you feel totally at peace with yourself, and your inner voice shines through. The beauty of the forest becomes clear and palpable beyond the quiet observation of your present thoughts, feelings, and beliefs – the trees.
Biographer Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Jobs:
If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things–that’s when your intuition starts to blossom, and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.
When restful, the mind quietens to absorb and allow its creative and innovative side to flow without concern for anything else. For Steve Jobs it was his intuitive and innovative streak that came to the forefront and got translated into Apple’s product designs and functionality. Jobs went beyond the everyday tech clutter (the trees) and opened his mind to the possibility of a slightly different big picture (the magical forest) in a very competitive industry. It was his tremendous expanse in the moment: a present, clear vision.
If you equate mindfulness with meditation techniques, you won’t be wrong, but in the following paragraphs, I propose another dimension to what we call mindfulness. I talk about quieting the mind and staying focused on the present to hear those subtle thoughts without necessarily seeking the meditative state by sitting still, closing your eyes, chanting or deeply breathing. These are wonderful ways to feel and get in touch with your inner self, but practising being calm and slowing your mind so you see so much more than you could before comes in many shapes and opportunities. Always keep an open mind.
The Joy of Arts
I have recently been seduced by the calming nature of colouring. In fact, Calming Nature was the title of the colouring book I bought on a whim in a bookstore the other day, which included a bonus set of coloured pencils.
Adult colouring is the recent buzzword for the hugely popular stress-reliever trend among adults of all ages. Letting your pencils follow the shapes of the intricate patterns and filling those empty spaces with your colourful creations is such a simple and fun act of being in the moment. You are fully committed to your imagination and to bringing back those careless childhood days when being ‘in the now’ was the only thing you knew.
When I colour I don’t dwell on anything but the instant gratification of seeing the artwork come to life, and the brightness or softness of the colours on the paper sheet. I am not a painter or a drawing artist, but I think I understand the exhilaration and ardent focus of the mind on the blank canvas coming to life step by step. It is an expression of ourselves at a time when the mind is purely aware of its power to create and its creation and nothing else. It is what ‘being in the zone’ means. It is akin to painting and drawing and its power to bring awareness to the sole moment of creation.
Similarly, singing can become a mindful absorbing pleasure, when you are aware of the tonality and inflexions of your voice, the cadence of the lyrics, all which can strengthen your breathing and have a relaxing effect on your mind and soul. Indeed, music is much more than a way of expressing ourselves, and it brings an array of emotions across all nations. In truth, we pay attention to our feelings and emotions when we connect through art and music.
The Power of Words
Each of us can practice mindfulness in joyful ways. For myself, the acts of reading and writing are the ultimate thrill of being truly mindful and focused on the level of awareness and expansion discussed above.
When I create a piece of writing, a fictional story, I slowly immerse myself in a present and vivid universe. I focus on the images the mind conjures, and translate them to paper or on my computer writing programme. There is nothing else to ponder but the story unfolding on my notebook or screen.
Reading takes me to the same place where I am mindful of what is in front of me, the story and its characters, and the effect their world has on me. Reading expands our mind, our horizons, and through it can unveil unusual connections or deeper thought processes. We become aware of things or feelings we haven’t noticed before, through other worlds and characters.
Russian writer Vera Nazarian said:Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. Click To Tweet
Reading is like this. It allows more light and wonders in your world, which is what your mind needs to feed on and expand its knowledge, creativity and intuition. To me, reading is mindful at its best – and essential in the rest.
Journaling is the act of doodling and effortless penning down your mind’s intimate thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. It is a cathartic experience of emptying your mind (best on paper) and observing your innermost being voice without judgement or expectations.
Personal writing is powerful. In doing so, you become mindful of your feelings and emotions. No wonder keeping a diary or a gratitude journal, daily or weekly, is mine-gold. Letting go, doodling, and scrambling random thoughts helps clear and focus the mind. And it might reveal surprising insights about yourself and others.
Mindful.org quotes studies which suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might have a greater impact on your happiness than journaling every day. The time spent writing daily or otherwise is not the most important thing, be it a few minutes or a full hour. The mindfulness practice of regularly jotting down is the one that counts. There are no right or wrong ways of doing it. Just write, and purge your mind.
The Surprising Benefit of Doing Nothing
Speaking of doing: doing absolutely nothing or simply being in the present moment invites mindfulness in your life. Mindfully idling is about practising slowing down and being still without impatience wherever you find yourself, be it in traffic, long queues, medical waiting rooms, or simply waiting for a friend to show up. It does not have to be a trance-like meditative state either. Just observing the environment and its people without focusing on judgements, comments and stereotyping of any sort is enough.
Chinese writer Lin Yutang and author of The Importance of Living goes further and gives new meaning to being idle, or useless, which is another way to say not actively pursuing an interest:If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live. Click To Tweet
Sometimes being alone at home or outdoors, and taking a break into nothingness, e.g. watching the passing clouds or your pet lazily stretching itself on the couch – is perfected mindfulness.
The Beauty of Slow Movement
Here is a word on the proverbial physical stillness of practicing mindfulness: I used the analogy of the forest to express the state of mindfulness. You can either sit and imagine this forest coming to life from the comfort of your chair or couch or experience it up close and personal by mindful moving or walking or why not, even hiking in a forest. Or taking a stroll on a beautiful country road. Or jogging in your local park. Mindfulness can be about movement too.
In The Little Book of Mindfulness, author Tiddy Rowan writes the following food for thought:
Think back to all of the places that you walked yesterday. In how many of those walks were you aware of the walking? And how many were done on autopilot?
Any walking activity is an opportunity to be mindful of the steps you take and to disengage from mind chatter. Walking in nature is not only therapeutic, but it can also teach us to slow down and tackle our steps with gentleness as opposed to thumping around and banging floors. Being ‘light on your feet’ is a physical way of walking lighter and it transmits positivity throughout the body, says Rowan. Plus, it improves your posture.
I once went to a wellness retreat where I discovered the power of exercising in a mindful way, in a calming environment, while solely focusing on body awareness. The slow movements of several practices like Yoga or Pilates bring a new awareness to posture, flexibility, strength, and breath. So does the ancient art of Tai-chi. I was totally immersed in the Tai-chi group session – so much that I didn’t register anything beyond the slow movement of my opened arms and the gracious move of the feet bending forwards or backwards. I noticed all the moves from the slightly curved tip of my fingers down to the rolling of my ball foot on the ground, and I involuntarily tuned everything else out of my immediate focus. I highly recommend Tai-chi if you want to completely tune out the world and be aware of your body movements and senses.
The Calming Nature of the OutdoorsTending a mindfulness plant means not thinking about something else. Click To Tweet
Rowan suggests cultivating a plant specifically for mindfulness, an idea I love. You can either buy the plant from your local nursery or supermarket or cultivate one from seedlings (which is more exciting). Either way, the purpose of your mindfulness plant is to serve as a reminder of living in the present moment by tending to its daily needs, watering it when necessary, keeping it clean and being aware of its growth.
Through gardening, you can slowly engage in mindfulness, and pair the joy of being outdoors with the working of your hands. It is thrilling to see the harvest of your sowing and planting efforts and watch it grow daily.
Nowadays most of our living spaces are open and inviting the outdoors in, and any housework activity can surprisingly present an opportunity to switch off your brain and focus on the tasks at hand – cleaning, washing up, dusting, hoovering. In fact, housework can turn from a dreadful avoiding activity to a pleasurable time and can become your everyday mindful time if you let it be.
I find that the time I spend repurposing an older piece of furniture or repainting a flower pot is just that – focusing on the moment where my actions are bringing out the best in that home item, and my attention is solely channelled in those activities.
Mindfulness on a Plate
By far the most rewarding for the body and soul is the simple act of eating with awareness, something we often overlook in our fast-paced modern lifestyle. Eating by using your senses – smelling, touching, tasting – makes you aware of what you are ingesting in your body. Moreover, the sensations of tastes and textures heighten.
Think about the source of your food and its nutrition. Sit down at the table, slow down your eating and be aware of the process the food went through from crop seeding, harvesting and picking to your plate. Choose to be mindful of the environment, and choose fresh produce and unprocessed foods.
Take and observe a piece of fruit you can peel – an orange, apple or banana – and notice the outer layers, nature’s packaging. Peel the fruit further, and notice its texture and softness. Smell it. Take small bites and roll the taste on your tongue. Notice the sweetness or the bitterness. Observe the seeds, their colour, and size.
Practicing mindful eating is not just about fuelling your body with nature’s goodness and being aware of the wonderful sensations your body experiences while eating. Such regular practice has the potential to reveal unhealthy eating habits and cravings. Could you watch the craving as a thought or a feeling and finally let go of it? This kind of thinking is a new way to perceive eating and its powerful hold on each of us.
Mindfulness then becomes the key to healthy eating and food enjoyment. Guilt, cravings and emotional snacking are acknowledged and slowly pushed away by the act of consciously listening to what our bodies tell us – the sensations of lightness or satisfaction, or the pains and the heaviness experienced.
Everyday mindful eating is perhaps the closest chance we get to truly practice mindfulness and stay in tune with ourselves and nature. I purposely left this powerful act of mindfulness last, to show that even something as simple as eating can truly become a powerful act beyond the meditating state of stillness and heightened awareness.
Think of the simple life-sustaining act of drinking pure water. Drink and feel its refreshing fluid body moving from mouth to throat to the stomach. Taste the molecules, the acidity, and the freshness. Be aware of the sensation water creates while moving through your body.
Essentially, be one with the water. We are mostly made up of millions of water molecules. Now that is an interesting thought, you can focus on in the present, and be mindful of yourself.