I’ll hold my hands up to being cynical about mindfulness. A lack of knowledge, understanding and experience prevented me from seeing how it could be useful on a practical level. I am very much a ‘get things done’ kind of person and I (incorrectly) assumed mindfulness would hinder my productivity. But I was wrong. Let me offer an example…
I’m sitting in my local supermarket car park writing this. Previously, this type of location was my idea of a nightmare – full of people, busy and concrete. For this reason, I would not have been able to be ‘present’ or even consider reflecting on the situation, let alone write a blog.
The following is happening around me. Any one of these on its own could be a trigger:
A car has pulled up next to me with music blaring and the engine still running.
The petrol station is coned off with no explanation or indication of when it will reopen.
I need to check my tyre pressure and refuel ahead of a long drive tomorrow.
I’ve got an hour to kill; I’ve just dropped my partner off for a PT session and the journey home is too far.
It’s sunny and hot. I would rather be anywhere but here.
I forgot my charger and my phone only had 12% battery.
I forgot my mask and I need to pick up salad for dinner.
I forgot my notebook so I’m having to resort to writing this on the back of a Kwik-Fit invoice.
These are just a few of the many observations my mind is making as I sit and wait. In my pre-mindful this would have continued for the following sixty minutes which would have caused me to respond by aimlessly staring at [insert any mind numbing activity completed on a mobile phone] until the battery died. Then getting frustrated that the battery had died. Then resorting to people watching and chastising myself for judgmental thoughts. Then searching the car for something productive to do. Then getting frustrated that there was nothing productive to do. Then getting frustrated that I was obsessed with being productive… You get the picture. A pretty toxic cycle.
So what’s different? Essentially, I’ve now ‘got my practice.’ This was a phrase I heard a lot when I was being taught mindfulness and then again when I was learning to teach it. Most of the time I nodded along while internally rolling my eyes and secretly wondering what it really meant. Everyone else in the class was nodding along too so I just assumed they knew. They probably assumed I knew. A whole lot of assumption and not a lot of knowing.
So what does ‘got my practice’ actually mean? Apart from sounding a bit conceited.
Imagine you’re at a beach and you push a stick upright in the soft sand. It’s reasonably well supported, got a fairly good foundation and can stand alone. Then imagine a wave comes in and washes over it. One way or another, that stick is going to be affected, depending on the intensity of the wave. Best case scenario – it’s nudged into a slight lean to one side. Worst case scenario – it gets completely washed away.
Now apply that analogy to you and your approach to challenges. The stick is you and the wave is any and every challenge that comes your way. Some sudden, some unexpected, some fierce. Your response to the scenarios life throws at you are what you have control over. But that doesn’t really start there and then. It can be hard to respond in a calm and rational manner if you haven’t built your foundation (solidity of the sand).
If you resonated with triggers or reactions on my lists above, you’re more likely to be the stick that gets battered around (if you’re lucky!). If you make a start on ‘practising’ mindfulness today, you’re giving yourself the best chance of being that upright stick.
Functional Always active
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