Friday, March 10, 2017

The Mindfulness Buzz-Word

Articles about mindfulness and gratitude have become popular reading fodder for those seeking to clear out some mental clutter, noise and restlessness from their lives. The thing is, these articles all make mindfulness practice sound so easy, when the reality is that it takes consistant practice and daily dedication to implement it successfully into your life. 
One could easily suggest that being "grateful" every day for what life offers and being mindfully engaged in the process of living, should be second nature. It is a compelling reflection on society (possibly more so modern western industrialised society) today, that we are at a point where we must teach people how to undo the damage that needing to "get ahead" has done; that we need to learn mindfulness and gratitude. Wow.
I have been reflecting on this a lot lately. I used to teach Les Mills classes - Body Combat, RPM, Body Pump. All these classes are high energy, full-on, pushing oneself to beaty basey music for an hour. Then along came Body Balance (a "mindfulness" class loosely based on the tenets of Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates). This class was developed at a time when the trend was high energy group fitness classes - Body Balance was the antithesis to this. It drew a small core of people however, who could see the value in their daily lives. Now - two decades after its introduction, these classes are packed.


My point about mentioning these classes, is that we are taught from a very young age, to push; to achieve highly at school so we can achieve highly at life; to push ourselves physically in sport (the harder the better); to strive; to go, go, go. We get to earn our relaxation time during official public holidays or during our legally prescribed five weeks annual leave a year.
In-between times though, we must push ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally. All of this aimed at the reward of a "chillax" somewhere in the distant future - "I can relax when....." and "things will be better when...." We are taught to always be in pursuit of something. Check out this Alan Watts clip which outlines some of this thought.
We are not taught from an early age about self-care; about how things will only ever be as good as they can be in ANY GIVEN MOMENT. We are not taught to have an awareness of the moment we are in, everything is aimed at projecting us somewhere else - our education system is where this begins. 
I find myself thinking lately about how kids in school could benefit so much from "mindfulness" training as a method of mitigating negative behaviours, rather than punitive guidance after they have somehow messed up. 
I teach at a school where there is compulsory silent reading (yes - of hard copy actual books), for 20 minutes after lunchtime and before the final teaching session of the day. It is compulsory also for every teacher. It has been revolutionary in transforming negative behaviours; it has been transformative for literacy levels within the school, but the biggest benefit I see, is the kids come into last period relaxed and more receptive to learning. One could argue it is a form of mindfulness. Through reading the kids (and teachers) are in the moment - not on some gadget; not stressing about NCEA; not worrying about the coming sports tournament - they are sitting quietly engaged in reading. 
It is a first step towards mindfulness and it is a highly valued part of our school day.

But what of us busy frantic adults?
To be grateful for each small thing and to be mindfully aware and engaged, does indeed take practice. 
It is not as simple as "ten easy steps towards mindfulness" or "best tips on practicing gratitude". When the whole world is telling us to speed up, it seems almost impossible to slow down!
So, for want of yet another set of "how to" advice, here's what I (try to) do to enhance these things in my life.

1. I accept things as they are. "It is what it is". My karate instructor always used to say that, and he was so right. It is what it is.

2. I try to get some form of connection with nature everyday. This usually happens through a beach walk or a bush walk - anywhere away from cars, people, noise. 

3. "When doing dishes, just do dishes". This is another saying gleaned from karate. I always remember it every time I do dishes! It means, just be in the moment and be very aware of what you are doing at that moment.

4. Know that life doesn't owe you a living. 

5. I try to make positives out of my negatives. For example; right now I work part-time, so at the end of the pay fortnight I have very little in my bank account. Rather than thinking "oh my god I have only got $13 in the bank - I'm BROKE"; I think: "I have a roof over my head, I have a car to drive and fuel in the tank, I have food in the fridge, I have clothes and shoes to wear everyday, and, I have $13 in the bank - sweeeeeet". 

6. Lists. I write lists. These things help to sift through the must-do's and to help clarify if it is a must-do or a not-so-vital. A list also names the thing that is on your mind. This creates more space and clarity.

7. Smile at someone. Smiling is an act of being engaged with another person RIGHT THERE IN THAT MOMENT.

8. Get off the device (says she who is on the device a fair bit....). But let me tell you this; the device is a barrier. The device keeps us disconnected (not connected) from our true selves and others. The device lulls us into an altered reality. This is the thing - it is an object into which we project ourselves, taking us away from who we are.  

9. Make time. This is the big one. We are told to rush towards that ever elusive prize of "somewhere in the future where things are awesome", rather than to slow down, look - really look - and engage with the world around us. It could be as simple as sitting somewhere alone, quietly, for five precious minutes.

10. Don't wish for someone else's life. Don't wait for things to be "better in the future". Don't put things off until "the time is right". The time is never right; there is no time like right now here this very present moment. What happened yesterday, last week, last year, five minutes ago, has happened. It will NEVER come back or repeat itself. The future (tomorrow, next week, next year, the next hour) has not happened yet - don't project into it. It may not happen. NOW is what you have. 
This does not mean you shouldn't make plans or have some kind of draft plan for what you would like to have happen in future years, but the realisation must come that this moment now is a pivotal part of that hoped-for future.


One thing I have not discussed here is a personal spiritual belief. I have seen the rise and rise of "mindfulness" as a thing you make time to do. The attitude of mindfulness as a separateness from oneself does not sit well with me. But  I also acknowledge that we need to start somewhere, and makingntime for conscious connected mindfulness may be no different than making time to pray.
This post is aimed at discussing the all-consuming rush that society sucks us into and some simple ways of disconnecting from that and reconnecting with oneself and/or perhaps a spiritual connection. 
I use the term  spiritual very broadly. In New Zealand Maori - Taha Wairua - a deep sense of peace, contentment, well-being and clarity  through a connection to a higher self; or for some this could include a deep religious belief. 
Finding some small sense of clarity and purpose through mindfully going about ones day, could be the start of something wonderful.
So that's it from my limited perspective. There is more I could write but I have two delicious sons I hope to go and meet for coffee. To make that happen I need right now to get out of bed! And on that note - 
check this out!

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