There is nothing more human than to worry about stuff!
Relationships, jobs, meeting people or even measuring up to our own expectations, the list can be endless. The trouble with too much worry is that we forget to let ourselves experience and enjoy what is happening in our present moment. We end up living too much in our head, planning, thinking and trying to prepare the path ahead of us.
Our minds are constantly interpreting our experiences. They try to fill in the missing bits of information, often with assumptions that may not always be true. The problem is that we can easily mistake our assumptions for ‘facts’. The thought may produce a physical or emotional response in us, so we treat it as real rather than just acknowledge it for what it is – a thought.
The good news is that there are different exercises we can use to help to center ourselves and our thinking. The objective of these exercises is to cultivate a moment-by-moment awareness of the physical environment around us. In doing this we root our mind in the present moment and deal with our stresses in a calm way rather by responding using our fears and emotions.
Please remember that these are exercises. And as with any exercises, they need repetition and practice to enable you to master them. As you do so, you will be building stronger control over your thought processes.
1. Mindful Immersion in Daily Tasks:
I love this one and always start with it for one very simple reason. Nobody can claim to be too busy or time-poor to practice Mindful Immersion!
Our aim should be to cultivate contentment in the moment. We should use a routine task like cleaning the house and allow ourselves to fully experience it. Pay attention to every detail and think about the process rather than thinking about what you would rather be doing with your time; which is guaranteed to create frustration!
The excuses I usually hear are that routine tasks are way too boring to get immersed in. My answer is that mindfulness needs to be completely non-judgmental.
We are training our minds to focus on simple everyday objects (In this case routine tasks) not just those that we find interesting.
We will end up discovering new experiences and details in mundane tasks that we had previously not seen. We are starting to become more in tune with the environment around us.
2. Mindful Observation:
This exercise flows naturally on from the previous Mindful Immersion. We are consciously and deliberately focusing on everyday objects rather than routine tasks.
Have you every walked down a street that you have always driven down in the past? If you have then you will remember how you noticed so many details about the houses that you had missed when in the car. This exercise is just a simple and powerful way to get us to slow down and connect with the profound beauty that we often miss around us.
The first step is to choose an object from around your natural environment and focus on it for a few minutes. It could be a tree or insect. Anything. Relax and look at it as if you were seeing it for the first time.
Explore all the aspects of the object; its color, shape and movement. Watch it for as long as your concentration will permit and allow yourself to connect with the object and its energy and place in the natural world.
3. Mindful Listening:
From an early age our minds subconsciously learn to tune in and out of the sounds around us based on a pre-determined list of preferences. As adults that process refines and our minds will ignore sounds that we have ‘labeled’ as unimportant.
The objective of mindful listening is to consciously remove our preconceptions from the experience of listening so that we can focus on exploring sounds from a completely neutral position. Those sounds may be voices, or music.
Music is a useful medium as we can practice this exercise in an uninterrupted environment.
Choose some music that you may not have heard before. Explore all the aspects of the music; the instruments and vocals in a non-judgmental way. Allow yourself to flow along with the music.
Remember. This is not about liking or disliking what you are hearing. Let go of your thoughts. The objective is to be able to listen intently. When we can master this exercise, we will find ourselves able to tune in and appreciate more of the nuances in the sounds and conversations that permeate our life each and every day.
4. Mindful Awareness:
This exercise is really the culmination of the other mindfulness practices. As we immerse ourselves in something while observing and listening, we are starting to create a heightened awareness of things that we generally treat as routine.
For example, we might be having negative thoughts. As we become aware of our train of thought, we can chose to stop and release the thought as an unhelpful element to our state of mind.
My favorite exercise is to be more aware when I am eating. We live in times where more people are choosing to discriminate in the types of foods they eat. The trouble is that we are now more rushed than ever, so that even good healthy food is hastily consumed. Its as if the eating part needs to be gulped down fast so that we can get on with more important tasks.
Nest time you are preparing to eat a meal (even your lunch at work), stop and smell the food. Are there different aromas? What is the texture like as you hold it in your mouth? Eat slowly and take a moment to appreciate the meal you are able to enjoy today.
All these exercises are designed to help us to consciously remove ourselves from the ‘autopilot mode’ that we tend to adopt when we are engaged in routine actions.
In its place we are developing a more fully conscious mind-set that can control which stimulus we choose to react to. We become individuals who are more fully grounded in the present and able to deal with life in a calm thoughtful way.
For more information on mindfulness and meditation please visit my article on the top 5 meditation training techniques.