Sunday, July 24, 2011
A few days ago, I woke up, had a cup of tea and instead of checking emails/facebook/news etc. first thing like I usually do, I decided to go for a walk before it got hot out. It's been really hot here in Nashville lately and, not being a huge fan of sweltering heat, if I don't walk early, which I nearly never do, I don't walk until around sunset.
First, I walked a block over to my mom's to feed her cat, who I'm taking care of while she's out of town. And then, instead of planning a course to walk, I just started walking. Walking with no particular destination or goal other than to be walking and noticing my surroundings, rather than being stuck inside my head while the world flies on by like I so often can be.
I noticed things I've never noticed before: a little stand of pine trees (which I had to take a detour and explore;) and the lovely smell of the hot pink crepe myrtles. I never realized that they even had a scent. The thing I noticed most of all was how clear my mind was and how it set the tone for the rest of the day. I felt mentally and spiritually better than I have in awhile and I realized that this feeling of clarity and centeredness is something that has been vitally missing for me recently. My mind was aware of and part of my surroundings, rather than somewhere else.
As I was in this relaxed state of mind (or the Zen term "no mind", as a friend referred to it) just experiencing my surroundings, the elusive topic of my long overdue blog post that I had been struggling to feel inspired to write suddenly became clear: I will write about mindfulness.
In the search for health and wellness, it's so easy to get caught up in the cycle of food choices, macronutrients, exercise, etc. and when we pile these things onto an already busy life, it's easy to plow through the day without really taking in our surroundings and pausing to breathe. Pay attention to your breath for a second. Are you subconsciously holding it or breathing shallowly?
It's easy to forget that collapsing on the couch and watching TV is entertaining, but entertainment isn't the same as pleasure. Are you cultivating any true pleasure in your life- not just passive entertainment?
You might be making a healthy meal for yourself, but are you sitting down to eat it in manner that allows you to really appreciate it or are you multitasking as you eat? Are you nurturing yourself with your food choices or just trying to be thinner/cleaner/better but forgetting to be loving and kind toward yourself?
All of those questions help illuminate a few of the many moments that we can miss out on being mindful about what we're doing. Without mindfulness, we make choices that are less conscious and we miss opportunities to experience more joy and pleasure.
As a neurofeedback technician, it concerns me that the majority of my clients (and myself) have at least low level attention issues. Our minds are restless and if we're not multitasking, we get antsy. But if we're always multitasking, we're also not truly ever experiencing a moment fully.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior actually alters our brain over time and rewires our brains to be impatient- looking for the next thing, whether it be the next comment on our facebook page, the next text, the next whatever. We skim everything, not going very deep. There is no mindfulness going on. When I read the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", I recognized what had happened to my brain. I used to be the kind of person who could immerse myself in a book for hours. I could read an article all the way through without feeling restless and flipping or clicking to another. I've rewired my brain to have an impatient attention span and I want to rewire it back.
So, how am I going to rewire my mind to take in more of life in each moment and not to be chomping at the bit for the next thing? Here's how:
-I've realized that postponing opening my laptop and starting my day with a walk is one of the best things for my mind. It sets the tone for the whole day. If I can't walk, I can drink my tea and listen to music. I can do something OTHER than reaching for my computer, first thing.
-I can do my qigong in the morning instead of the evening.
-In the evening, instead of just watching TV, I could read or look up recipes to make for the week or even lay on my hammock and enjoy the quiet.
-I can do a few minutes of deep breathing when I wake, before each meal and before I go to sleep.
-Instead of washing the dishes mindlessly (I hate washing dishes) or putting off washing them, I can put on some music to make the task more enjoyable. For me, a clean house makes a huge difference in my amount of mental clutter, but I often don't take small opportunities to pick things up or clean and then everything gets so messy that it makes my mind feel cluttered and unfocused.
All of these are small things that make a huge difference in how I feel and experience my life.
There are so many ways I can engage my life more mindfully. I want to take advantage and not only get more out of life, but find greater presence of mind and balance. How will you practice mindfulness?