As humans we spend so much time living our life in our heads. What I mean by this is we are always thinking, thinking, thinking. Thoughts about the past, maybe regrets or ‘should have’ ‘could have’ scenarios or worries about the future, wanting things to be a certain way or not wanting certain things to happen. If we were able to just be in the present moment more often and pay attention to what we are doing and how we are actually feeling, life can be much simpler.
In Ruby Wax’s book Sane New World, she writes about a Depressing Thought.
“Suppose your life expectancy is 90 and you’re 38 now, that means you have approximately 52 years left. Now let’s say you’re only aware of a minute every three to five days, this might mean you only have about 12 years left in conscious time. I may not have this exactly right, but you see my point. What I am trying to say is that if you were attentive to your life rather than simply getting through it, even if a doctor told you you only had six months to live, if you were awake to every minute, it would be longer than if you had 100 years to live in an unconscious state”.
We all have the capability to change our thinking habits and make our lives a little simpler.
• Set a reminder on your phone once or twice a day to take a pause. This can be a pause to tune into your breath for one-minute counting ten breaths or to tune into the sounds around you.
• Have a mindful cup of coffee. Spend a couple of minutes smelling and tasting the coffee, tuning into the direct experience rather than drinking coffee and thinking about something else.
• When walking, focus on the feeling of the feet on the ground, the physical sensations of walking.
• If you spend a lot of your day at a computer, set a reminder each hour to pause and look out of the window to look at the trees, traffic, buildings. Really look at something and take a moment to be grateful for your sense of sight.
• Try to go outside for some fresh air each day whatever the weather. Being outside is proven to increase happiness and well-bring.
• Signing up to a mindfulness course can teach you the skills to be more present throughout your day and live a happier, simpler life
It's all too easy to let Christmas pass you by without truly enjoying and appreciating its magic. Everything leads up to that one special day, and then, within the blink of an eye, it's gone, vanished until next year.
I remember when my children were young, I exhausted myself trying to create the perfect Christmas., There a so much to do, food shopping, present buying, present wrapping, writing Christmas cards, putting up decorations; the list was endless. I felt it was my job to make Christmas perfect for everyone else and in the process, I neglected myself.
Nobody made me do this; it was a pressure I put upon myself. I don’t think my children would have noticed if the turkey hadn’t been stuffed with the latest top chef’s stuffing recipe or whether the mince pies had been home-made or shop bought!
Today I still want to create the wonderful Christmas for my family, but I am more realistic and accept that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I still put effort into creating a fun Christmas but I now enjoy the process of doing this. I pay more attention to each activity and what doesn’t get done won’t matter.
A few years ago I mislaid my address book so couldn’t send any Christmas cards. For a brief moment I thought how terrible this was and what would people think if they didn’t receive a card from me. For a brief moment I considered calling everyone on my Christmas card list whose numbers were in my phone to ask for their addresses. Instead I didn’t send any cards! Guess what? Nothing terrible happened. Christmas came and went, life carried on and the world didn’t notice that cards weren't sent from the Quinton Smiths!
Christmas starts with battling through the seasonal crowds and keeps going to the New Year hangover. We need to pace ourselves. When you go shopping, take breaks. Sit in a café and follow your breath, regardless of what’s going on around you.
Check Your Expectations
So much stress comes from the idea that everyone should be happy and get on well. But things are as they are: children can get hyper and temperamental; family tensions can come out; old patterns can resurface. Allowing ourselves to experience any feelings of disappointment and frustrations when they arise, can help us find a more creative response.
Look After Yourself
For some people Christmas is a lonely time, and it can bring back painful memories of people you’ve lost. If that’s your experience, make it a time to take care of yourself. Give yourself the space and kindness you need.
Enjoy Yourself (within reason!)
It’s easy to do too much of everything at Christmas: eating, drinking and being entertained. The downside is feeling tired and bloated, regretting the weight you’re gaining, and spending too much money. So take a mindful breath, appreciate the simple things and stop when you need to.
Take Time Out
At family gatherings and celebrations things like meditation are easily pushed out, especially when children are around. So try to maintain your practice and take breathing spaces. Reflect that staying in a better state helps you to respond better to others.
This Christmas be mindful as much as you can and don’t let unhelpful thoughts get in the way.
One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day.
Don’t clean it up too quickly.
Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of a child they are all 30 foot tall!
My teacher Suryacitta helps students understand the nature of thoughts through the ‘clicky pen’ analogy!|
Imagine a ball point pen that has a clicky end that allows the nib to be in when not being used and out when required for writing. This pen is a wonderful tool designed for writing. When you have finished writing with it, you click it and the nib goes in and you put it down to rest until you need it again. This is using it as it was meant to be used for, as a tool which is good for a particular purpose.
Suppose you have finished writing a letter and you click the end but the nib doesn’t go in and you find your pen won’t stop writing. It just carries on writing a load of rubbish. No matter how much you want it to stop writing, it won’t. Even when you want to go to sleep this pen carries on writing. This continues day after day. It begins to be exhausting.
The thinking mind is like the pen. It is an excellent tool, one we could not live without. It is excellent for working some things out, for planning, analysing and for problem solving. It is a miracle of nature. But we don’t know how to use it.
We have lost the art of using the tool of the thinking mind for the purpose it was intended for. We don’t need the thinking mind when we are walking down the street, having a shower, appreciating a tree or the ocean. We don’t need it to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or to go to sleep. We have come to over rely on this one magnificent tool to try to solve all our problems. Think...think...think.... that’s what we are now wired to do.
Mindfulness practice can help us loosen our attachment to thoughts, we learn to use our mind more wisely. We can use it when we need it, we don’t let it chatter away all day long with judgements and opinions that we are better off without.
If you search on any search engine the meaning for mindfulness, you will find many different definitions.
There are hundreds of books on the subject. Mindfulness is being talked about in government, taught in schools & in recent years is a bit of a buzzword and every day on social media there are references to mindfulness.
However whilst it currently might be trending, it is been around for thousands of years; modern western practice is based on Buddhist traditions.
We all have the capacity to be mindful. When we were children we were naturally mindful but as we get older most of us lose this quality.
But what is it? What’s it all about?
This is not possible all of the time and I still go into thinking about the past or worrying about the future but I catch myself doing this much quicker than I used to and can quickly bring myself back to the present and what is actually going on rather than the story in my head.
Since venturing down the mindfulness path I have started noticing others around me who appear unhappy and who don’t seem to be living in the present.
On a recent holiday this was very evident.
A holiday takes planning. There is the decision to be made of where to go, how much do we have to spend on a holiday? Once the destination has been decided and booked, most people will then look forward to the holiday. They will possibly shop for new clothes, plan what to pack, decide who will feed the cat, chat to their friends (and hairdresser) about their upcoming holiday.