What is mindfulness… really?

I’d like to explain – in my words- what mindfulness is really about. For too many people, they get lost in the jargon and fancy words when really, it’s not at all complicated. Mindfulness is actually very simple. It’s just we’ve gotten so used to mindlessness.

Living mindlessly – the opposite to being mindful – is like living with a constant automatic commentary playing in your head. You may not be aware that it’s there directing every thought and influencing every feeling that you have. Therefore you believe every word it says, without question.

But – as mindfulness makes clear – our problems in life really begin when we get too lost in the stories our mind tells us and therefore spend way too much time in our heads.

We form opinions about anything and everything. We categorise people and situations as being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ There’s hardly ever any in between. It’s not very often we remain completely neutral about something.

As a result, our emotions and thoughts exhaust us before our bodies do. And when our minds spin out of control, our bodies usually follow.

Let me use an analogy to explain my point further… Say you’re watching a football match on the television. There’s actually two things going on. There’s the football match that’s happening. And then there’s the commentary taking place on top of it.

The football match just ‘is.’ The ball moves. The players run. Goals get scored or goals get missed – whatever. A toddler watching a match taking place would likely not have an opinion about the people playing or the outcome of the match, it’s just an event that’s unfolding.

The commentator on the other hand, reels off thoughts and judgements about what’s taking place. The match is deemed great, awful, exciting or boring. The commentator’s mood often changes throughout the course of the match and the outcome of the match has a significant effect on how the commentator feels.

After the match has finished the commentator will often engage in discussions about the match, analysing and contemplating what could have been done differently. There may be mentions of ‘what ifs’ or ‘if only!’

Having this constant stream of thoughts is very normal. But for the most part, too many of us take our thoughts as being facts – and they are often unquestionably assumed as being the Absolute. Truth! But if your mind is feeding you negative or critical thoughts then this commentary can actually be downright harmful.

The example I’m using of the commentator is merely to point out that you have the same sort of voice in your head, living all of your life experiences with you. This is your mind.

The minds commentary will feel good when life is good and the ‘voice of opinion’ is in approval with what’s happening. But throw in a life changing event or a change to your normal routine, and see what happens. Does your mind stay calm and centred or does it get thrown about in a sea of thoughts and opinions?

Living in your head, to put it bluntly, is just plain exhausting. If we learn to form opinions about every single thing, mentally resist all the things that we ‘don’t like’ and strive towards or compare ourselves to things that we do ‘like’ – when can we ever experience real peace and quiet, and thus get a decent mental break?

When is it okay to just be who we are, exactly as we are, in this exact place and time without something needing to be changed/improved/discussed/removed/recognised?!

Even when going about with our daily life very rarely do we meet someone new and accept them completely at face value, like a young child would. The same thing happens when we encounter experiences or events.

We like them. Or we don’t like them. We get lost in our feelings and thoughts about things rather than Just. Letting. Them. Be. Why do we have to have an opinion about every thing or person?!

Living mindfully means engaging with that quiet, child like part of you once more. It’s noticing the world around you and observing those beside you too, without falling prey to mental stories.

It’s being quiet enough inside to just see and feel life as it is. Right here and now. Being able to let go of the habitual constant thinking state and just Be is not only a useful relaxation tool but a vital skill for life. Constantly carrying around your thoughts and feelings about everything as you get older will eventually become too much a weight to carry.

So why not choose to put the weight down from time to time. Take a breath. Let yourself feel the world around you. The wind on your skin. The earth beneath your feet. Look, no – really look – at your loved ones when they’re talking to you.

Do something radical and choose to switch off from that constant chattering commentary. How? By tuning in to your physical senses instead. Look, listen, feel, taste, smell.

Allow these tangible senses to ground you and let yourself soak up life in the here and now. Boy does it feel good.

Mindfulness is simple, but not always easy as its opposite – mindlessness – has become an ingrained habit for so many of us. But you can choose to break free from the same old patterns of thought.

Just watch. Notice. See where your mind usually takes you. Notice the stories you often tell yourself.

Then offer yourself the mental space you need by practising what humans were meant to be for in the first place… being.

So my final question to you… I know you know how to do a lot of stuff. It’s impressive, truly. But do you know how to be?

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