Joy Basics 1: Mindfulness
Mindfulness. We've all heard the word. Some of us have dabbled. A lot of us have become frustrated with it. In this Joy Basics article, I'm here to tell you that you can pick your mode of mindfulness. It doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming, I have a few ways of looking at mindfulness that you might not have considered.
Try this: Right now, put down your phone. Squeeze your hands closed into tight fists for the count of 20. Close your eyes. Your attention focuses on right now, and is taken out of the mind - into the body. An espresso shot of mindfulness.
Before we go into all of your options, let's talk about 'why'. Why be mindful, and how does it directly relate to joy? We practice mindfulness to train our brains not to react unnecessarily. It adds clarity to how we perceive situations. With mindfulness, things that used to make you angry or annoyed, no longer do so. This does not mean that you lose your passion or opinions – you are just more able to perceive what is worth being passionate or annoyed about.
How does it work? Buddhist teachings explain that if we are present in the moment, we cannot experience any suffering. This sounds like an overblown statement, but lets look at it. 'Suffering' does sound quite dramatic, but if you think about how we torment ourselves on a constant and daily basis – succumbing to stress, worrying about things that almost never materialise – suffering is essentially the outcome. If we're in the present moment, not thinking about anything in the past or worrying about the future, all we have is our sensations. What we feel, hear, see and taste. Unless there is an actual danger, or issue that needs to be fixed, those sensations bring us into a positive head-space. Over time, we find that the practise of mindfulness helps us to distinguish between real, actual feelings, and the ones that our mind has superfluously added in to mess with our heads.
It's like being, without the baggage.
We get to a point where automatically reacting to circumstances is no longer an issue. I know I bring up traffic a lot - but I live in Auckland, very far out of town, and its a real thing - but let's consider the traffic jam. We're conditioned to hate them, to let our blood boil. With a bit of mindfulness, we realise that we're sitting in a comfortable seat, possibly listening to our favourite tunes, able to slowly soak in all the scenes and faces we drive by. If we avoid the initial reaction, the actual sensation of being in traffic is not unpleasant.
But do you have to be a zen-master-level-meditator? I can 100% vouch, from very personal experience, that you don't. I'm hopeless at mindfulness meditation (this doesn't mean that I don't often try to 'get back into it', and maybe one day it will stick).
Here are a few other ways to practice mindfulness:
1. Mindfulness vs Mindlessness
Professor Ellen Langer, social psychologist and researcher, offers a different way of looking at mindfulness. She sees it as “actively noticing”. Simple really. No mediation necessary, and you end up with the same result. Most human beings are constantly in a state of mindlessness: We are doing one thing, and thinking of another. By actively noticing, we are in the present. She suggests making a point of noticing 5 new things in each situation (particularly situations that you partake in every day). Her research shows that this simple act enlivens you, brings context to your situation, and improves your mental state.
2. Mindful Moments
This is something I practice and love – it fits in with my lifestyle and the benefits are real. Pick a few habitual moments in your day, eg.: brushing your teeth, getting into the car, getting a drink of water. Make these habits reminders to take a mindful moment. If you're brushing your teeth, take a deep breath first, then focus intently on your brushing, rather than checking your phone or tidying your bedroom while you do it. You're in the moment. When I'm driving, I like to notice the feeling of my hands on the steering wheel – it's a simple, powerful way of coming out of my mind, and into my body. If you struggle to remember, place a few coloured dot stickers, in the places where your habits take place.
3. Mindful Activity
Engaging in a consuming physical activity can be very mindful. For me, it's Yoga. Focusing on every movement and sensation in my body leaves me on a complete joy buzz – even after just a 15 minute practise (I recommend Yoga with Adriene, she's incredible, and her classes are free). If the idea of yoga has you yawning at your screen, never fear. Rock climbing and surfing are two unbelievably mindful endeavours. You are so focused on your next move and the environment around you that you are present. Not into physical exertion? Art can be a powerful mindfulness tool if you allow yourself to be totally focused on it. I painted a series of mindful paintings and they are still some of my favourite work.
4. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is hugely valuable, it's been researched and tested, and has countless benefits. For those of us who have tried, or actively practice it, it makes sense. If you're new to meditating, don't fear, there are ways of starting out that don't include becoming a Buddhist monk, or chanting with your crystals under moonlight (although both of those options are very enticing). Mindfulness meditation can start with simple exercises of watching your breath and noticing your thoughts. There are some fabulous apps to help (such as Headspace), and here's a beginners meditation to start with.
If you want to improve your joy today, pick one (or all) of these, and give it a try. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so try it for three weeks. Set reminders on your phone, or stick notes up around the house. Feel the joy of the present – and let go of the mindless, scattered thoughts that add unnecessary stress to your life.
Would you like to inject more joy into your daily life? Join this Facebook Group - On Joy, and be part of our joy-seeking conversation.