Is your mind too full of stuff at the moment? Are you on auto-pilot engaging in mindless activity causing you stress with the potential for burnout? Many of us have become increasingly dependent on technology and are living with greater uncertainty in our lives. Busy, yes, but what kind of busyness and does it contribute to your happiness?
A New York Times article adroitly identified busyness serving as “a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness” and often “institutional self-delusion”. We like to think we are important.
In the wider employability context, it’s about self-management and your ability to be resilient in the face of change. Mindfulness is usually associated with the here and now, but I’d like to suggest you can also practise being mindful from past and future perspectives. Some might argue that’s contradictory as you have to let memories and ideas into your mind. Alternatively, you can treat each of them as states of letting go to achieve clarity, stillness and a sense of wellbeing.
This blog post was triggered by a network event where I was introduced to mindful eating. Eating a single currant mindfully was an enlightening and enjoyable experience – certainly the longest it has ever taken me to eat one! I eat my dinner more slowly now which has encouraged more conversation as we’re spending longer at the table. Having done a bit of meditation on and off over the years, I’ve always found it a challenge to maintain the discipline to embed it into my daily routines. Maybe I have found a solution in the humble currant.
Being Mindful in the Present
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it ‘The Present’. Eleanor Roosevelt
Being mindful is about noticing what is with all of your sensory organs – the feel of the currant as you hold it in between thumb and forefinger, its ridges and contours, its sweet fragrance, its texture as you chew it slowly and deliberately until nothing remains before a final swallow. You can’t give proper attention to something unless your mind is still and free from distractions. Hence, the reason why people meditate to achieve a mental stillness so they can give attention to…nothing. Yoga, breathing, exercise, and prayer are some of the many ways to meditate.
It usually takes me at least two days to let go when I go on holiday. Eventually, I find myself being mindful without realising it. For example, lying on a beach feeling the grains of sand fall through my hands, listening to nothing but the pounding of the sea’s waves and feeling the strength of the sun on different parts of my skin. And, yes, my iPhone gets switched off.
Being Mindful in the Past
Recalling a joyful experience or a fantastic achievement can evoke positive feelings and thoughts. It could be a particular person, place or object. In our mind’s eye, we can catch a taste, whiff, sound or sensation of that moment, like a déjà vu that you can actually grasp. I can still recall the bolt of electricity that shot through me when my first child screamed her first breath. Losing yourself in a feel good memory is being mindful in a past sense.
Being Mindful in the Future
Similarly, a vision of the future can sometimes be more compelling if you time travel forwards and describe success in the present tense. In effect, you are behaving as if success has already been achieved using all your senses. What can I see, hear or touch? How does it feel emotionally? What is the sweet smell of success? Try writing a future letter to yourself or even recording a future video!
Having been diagnosed twice with terminal cancer, the author Vaishali practises mindfulness to deal with the pain. For her, its value is in allowing the mind “to reorganize and empty itself, much in the same way that fasting can support the body in cleansing and releasing toxins.”
Research has shown that mindfulness improves brain wiring in just a month. As Neuroscientist Dr Elena Antonova, from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said: ‘The findings of this study are potentially good news for all of us. If as little as 11 hours of mindfulness training makes the brain wiring more prolific and better insulated, then simply by being mindful, which is accessible to anyone at any time, we might enjoy a lifetime of mental clarity and emotional stability.’
Eat more currants (slowly)!