I know that mindfulness is an effective tool to save you. From yourself. Empowerment has nothing to do with control and everything with letting go.
“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”
I remember agreeing with DH Lawrence the first time I read that; focusing on something to take my mind off things always improved my mood. Not until recently, however, have I begun to appreciate that the absorbing nature of moment-to-moment activity can have a profound impact on your life. It’s called mindfulness.
Recently, the lid has started to lift on mental health. We now have a week devoted entirely to the exposure of this nasty little bastard which will plague 45 per cent of us in our lifetime.
As always, though, with mass zeal comes mass misunderstanding. The word mindfulness is now being paraded as the magical word which can make you feel and live better.
But what actually is mindfulness? And how is it going to make you happy?
Basically, mindfulness is the practice of merely noticing the full constellation of your sensory experience from moment to moment. Now, that might sound bleedingly obvious. You may be thinking, “of course I notice my sensory experience, that’s why they’re my senses” – which is what I once thought…
Let’s say that you’re drinking a coffee right now. I bet that normally when you drink the coffee you read the paper, stalk your ex on Facebook or whathaveyou. Alternatively, you might be stewing over what meetings you have today, your debt scenario and whether you’ll have a big weekend or not.
When was the last time you actually experienced the sensation of drinking the coffee? From the chalky effect the takeaway cup has on your fingers, to the feeling of the polished, white plastic top between your lips, to the sensation of the liquid barrelling through the sipper.
I know that seems tedious and no one takes every sip of coffee like that, but if you think about it, for that second, that sip of coffee is actually all that your life consists of. Every thought you have outside of that sip is just that: a thought, something in your mind that may or not prove to have anything to do with reality.
Mindfulness is the practice of realising that the moment you are in is all you can experience. As a result, who you will be or who you have been, is entirely inconsequential. But there is a catch. By being in the present, mindfulness asks you to discard a system that is deeply embedded in your psyche: Your relationship with time.
From a very young age, we are taught to worship the future. You have a calendar of events which dictates the future to you. Your financial “plan” is for the future. We invest in things based on what they will do in the future. In fact, so precious is this concept that when something is doomed, we actually say, “it has no future.”
Yet, our preoccupation and our love affair with the future may be what cripple us.
The same can be said for ruminating on the past. Think about the number of decisions you regret and the interactions you over-analyse. In the words of the great Ingrid Bergman, “Happiness is good health and a bad memory!”
In the words of a not-so-great ten-year-old (me), “Did you know that a goldfish only has a memory of about three seconds?” I recognise that there is every chance of a generous dollop of primary school mayo on this. However, if we consider it to be factual for now, then I assume that your initial response is to immediately pity this unsuspecting tank dweller for his deprived life. No memories, no ambition, no goals…a life not worth living.
Recently, I recognised the propensity for joy that the goldfish must have. Imagine the ability to (literally) float through life, uninhibited by the anxieties of the future or the depression of the past; to appreciate nothing but the sheer wonder of the fact that you are alive.
Being truly mindful involves accepting both your past and present and letting those hopes, dreams and desires dissolve into your person. Ignorance is not the solution. This is where my goldfish metaphor struggles to stay afloat. Who we were and who we want to be mould who we are; they shape the decisions we make in the present. This is unavoidable. That being said, the ability to be mindful of the world around you without being compelled by thoughts of where you’re going or where you’ve come from is invaluable.
You can’t be like this all the time. No one can be. And when you’re photocopying your 95th file for the day or standing in the rain watching your son’s soccer, it will always be hard to appreciate the “wonder” of a moment.
In saying that, in taking the time to be mindful, if only for two or three minutes a day, I promise you will notice vast improvements in your character.
If you can let go of the person you want to be and stop trying to mould life to your plan, you may just find in it a moment of liberation. In accepting that your life and you are changing from moment-to-moment, and that you can experience that change, you free yourself to be a part of it.
Whether it’s shredding oranges or scrubbing the floor, empowerment has nothing to do with control and everything to do with letting go. You might even enjoy the marmalade.