How did the ground feel under your feet when you got out of bed this morning? Was it cold or was it warm? What about the sky? What did it look like when you first looked out the window?
When we move straight from one to-do item to the next one, our immediate reality can sometimes fade into the background. We might have an app to keep track of how many steps we’ve taken and the tasks we’ve accomplished by the day’s end, yet often we lack insight on how the day really felt.
Mindfulness can not only help us start to see the day a little differently, but it can also ensure that we, ultimately, care more for ourselves and our well-being.
What we perceive
We can blame digitisation for a number of our current issues, yet lack of information is definitely not one of them. On the contrary, it’s thanks to platforms like Instagram that we can see what people we don’t even know had for breakfast. All of humanity’s news and communications are just a tap away in the palm of our hands.
It can be quite wonderful, actually. However, if we only take things in digitally, everything analogue falls by the wayside. We lose sight of the ability to perceive our own selves and our surroundings too.
It’s no coincidence that advancing digitisation and the mindfulness trend go hand-in-hand. Because in the digital world, we forget about the beauty in the ephemeral since everything is always accessible at any given moment. How do we know when something is truly enough if it never actually comes to an end? When we’ve finished watching a movie or series, we’re already on to the next one, and just about every social network now has us doom scrolling to infinity.
Be that as it may, we can guarantee that the morning light will beam differently through our window every single morning. And no day will ever be exactly the same as the ones that came before it and the ones that will come after it. That’s why mindfulness is all about the moment.
Short-lived digital information can feel like fast food for our minds — it tastes great every now and then, but in the end it’s only natural food that can truly fill us up. Food that comes straight from our planet and has nourished and sustained humans for hundreds of thousands of years.
In other words, it's not about gaining more perspective but rather a different perspective. Maybe a little more focussed on us and our environment. And yes, maybe a little deeper too.
What is mindfulness
Even if relaxation and mindfulness exercises seem similar at first glance, there is one crucial difference: Relaxation exercises are more like a tool. We use them when we need them. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is an attitude that we can take with us everywhere we go.
It doesn't really matter whether we're cleaning the kitchen, reading a book or talking to a friend on the phone.
The practice of mindfulness comes from Buddhism, dating back to 2,500 years ago, and calls upon these four principles or ‘foundations’:
- Mindfulness of Body
Do we feel relaxed or tense? Is there a difference between how the right side of our body feels versus the left side? How long and deep are each of our breaths?
- Mindfulness of Feelings
Do we feel hopeful and full of energy? Or sad and weary? Maybe simply neutral?
- Mindfulness of Mind
Are we focussed on what we’re doing, or are we easily distracted? Do we feel confused or clear-headed?
- Mindfulness of Dhammā (Mental Objects)
Can we pinpoint the individual things going on in our heads? From an outstanding bill to our shopping list to a fictional conversation with anyone.
Do our thoughts about a particular situation deviate from the reality that we currently experience with our senses? As we become more aware of this divergence between our thoughts and our experiences, if we want to and feel better off for it, we can start to let go of our thoughts and acknowledge them for what they are: products of our mind.
When something comes up that we’re really concerned about and don’t want to forget, we can jot it down on a notepad and then resume our mindfulness concentration. However, this should only be in exceptional cases and should not become the rule. The point of the exercise is to learn how to completely let go.
How to make mindfulness part of your self-care
These four foundations of mindfulness are collectively referred to as ‘Vipassana meditation’. Independent of their Buddhist context, however, we can also integrate their components into our everyday lives.
It might look something like:
- Observing our body and surroundings as we wake up
- Taking the train or bus without looking at our phones
- Paying attention to our breath
- Eating more consciously, savouring every bite
- Setting aside a few minutes for ourselves before bedtime
The list goes on and on. Listening to music or dancing can also count as an expression of mindfulness.
Learning mindfulness together
Sharing experiences with others can make them all the more enjoyable and provide us with extra motivation, especially as we start new habits. Maybe you would like to try out mindfulness exercises with someone else? Perhaps this could be a good friend or someone in your family. You could decide on mindful moments to create over the course of a week and then convene to share your experiences.
How did it feel when the sun came out for a moment on a gray day and beamed down upon your skin? How did your food taste? Did you notice anything different?
Mindfulness doesn’t mean that anything has to change on the outside. Yet it can trigger an awareness and much-needed change within ourselves. Mindfulness can help us widen our view of the world if we want it to. It can show us that we can indeed see things differently than we might be used to seeing them.