Walk with me – that’s the title of a film I saw yesterday about the everyday life in Plum Village, a monastic community in France!
One of my favorite scenes shows when tourists arriving for a retreat follow village founder Zen master for a walking meditation. He’s walking at the front with slow, really slow, really really slow steps. People behind have hard time not to overtake him as they instinctively go with bigger and faster steps, reminding themselves to slow down and pulling up after every other step.
Indeed, we in our Western lives operate in this running mode. We’re busy all the time, running from A to B the whole day… and even invented systems for doing multiple things at the same time to spare time (ever heard of multitasking?).
That’s all the opposite of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to what’s going on in the present moment. Getting rid of nostalgia or resentment (a clear sign of living in the past) and anxiety or planning out your weekend program or your kids’ school activities (being in the future).
Why does mindfulness matter you might ask… And you’d better read this impressive list:
1. By being mindful you are in the present and enjoy the moment. A rare gift, and if you’ve seen kids playing worryless, fully immersed, then you know what I mean.
2. As a consequence, mindfulness makes you feel happier. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen master from the film I mentioned above says “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”
3. When you’re mindful, you’re reconnecting to yourself, so you’ll know with each of your senses how you’re doing at that moment and what your needs are.
4. Mindfulness reduces stress. There are whole programs built on top of that, like MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 70’s. Used initially to relieve pain and depression, mainly for oncology patients, now there are thousands of people signing up for MBSR courses worldwide (including yours truly!) just for the sake of enjoying the benefits of mindfulness.
5. Mindfulness improves attention and concentration.
6. It also contributes to better sleep, as researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found from related studies.
7. More surprisingly, mindfulness relieves chronic pain and other suffering where circumstances cannot be changed (indeed, it was applied with success in my case during oncology treatment).
8. And finally, it improves your relationship with others. Because who doesn’t like it when you’re just there with the other person and listen without judgement?
So there are a tons of reasons why you might want to give consideration to this topic.Mindfulness improves attention and sleep, relieves pain, reduces stress and makes you enjoy the moment, thus being happier. Click To Tweet
And now that the what and why are cleared out of the way, let’s deal with the how…
Here are 10 tips to start being mindful now, even if you’re super busy:
#1. Slow down.
In every possible way. You can start by physically slowing down your steps when going somewhere. You’ll see that as soon as you do this, you’ll start noticing details you never realized were there.
Now that you reduced your pace, start paying attention to the world around you. Notice the people. Notice the objects you’re surrounded with. What are you seeing now that you haven’t seen before? By shifting your attention to your environment, you’ll feel more connected as your attention broadens.
#3. Notice beauty.
When your attention broadens and you feel connected to your surroundings, you will not only start noticing things, but you’ll see beauty around you. A bird singing… A beautiful facade… Smiling people. Our brain is not made to scan positive things, so allow yourself (and your brain) this experience, to balance out stress, bad news and anxiety you go through every day.
Just enjoy the moment. Use all your senses. Have you seen wine tasters at work? They use their eyes, nose, palate, but even their hands, moving the wine around in the glass while observing it. Do the same. Ask yourself:
What am I seeing here?
What am I hearing here?
What am I smelling here?
What am I tasting here?
What am I feeling here?
Be present.“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way” ~Thich Nhat Hanh Click To Tweet
#5. Be mindful when eating.
It’s kind of the same thing like the previous point, but more specifically for eating. Stop watching TV or reading a book or chatting on your smartphone while you’re eating. Tune into your senses. Notice the colors, the textures, the taste… but even the sound. Take the time to chew your food. Notice differences when pairing different ingredients.
#6. Stop multitasking.
Really. Do only one thing at a time and be fully present for it.
#7. Pause and check in.
In the monastery of the film ‘Walk with me’, a bell goes on roughly every 15 minutes when people stop for a moment what they do and check in with themselves, be fully present. You too can do this… and even use apps as a gentle reminder. There is a Chrome extension that you can add to your browser that goes off every now and then prompting you to pause. If you don’t like it, there are a bunch of other internet and even mobile phone mindfulness applications that you can download directly from the site of Plum Village.
If you pause and want to bring back your attention to the present, one of the easiest ways is to focus on your breathing. Simply be aware of the trajectory of air as you inhale and exhale all throughout your body. Sometimes a minute or two already makes a difference.
Focusing on your breathing is also a good tactic if you’re upset. Has anyone ever recommended you to take a deep breathe to calm you down? And indeed. Pausing and focusing on your breathing does help in taking distance.
#9. Do yoga
I never understood what that fuss was around yoga, until I ended up doing it myself one day. Not that I’m a big yoga master. I only do it occasionally, but there’s something magic in doing those simple exercises while focusing on your breathing.
On a side note, yoga is not only for people who are physically in good shape. There are all sorts of yoga postures you can do, some of them even lying. Which gives you no excuse not to do them. 🙂
As a means of mindfulness, meditation can lower your stress level, protect your brain and help you sleep better. Just as yoga, meditation can take different forms and lengths. You can do a sitting, lying or walking meditation. You can do a body scan, literally scanning through every part of your body (here’s a body scan recorded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). Or if you’re visual, you can go for a visualization, blending in colors of powerful positive images.
So if you think meditation is not for you, most probably you just didn’t find the right type yet. Keep on searching! 🙂
Now it’s over to you! Pick one or two tips from the list above and implement. And let me know what difference it made in your life.
Remember – mindfulness is a muscle. Just practice and you’ll get there. 🙂
By the way, going home after watching the film, I stepped out to the street and instinctively slowed down my steps. I was walking slowly. And then even slower. And then extremely slowly… And suddenly I noticed there were trees in that street. Who planted them overnight, I wondered… And anyway, where were all those people running? Such a hectic town… 🙂