What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness in its original form is a spiritual tool or undertaking – from the Buddhist tradition and a key practice on the path to enlightenment. It is a way to be, an instrument to becoming.it is even a way to do. It takes the form of an attentive awareness of the reality of things and an awake presence in the present moment. It is sometimes coined as ‘living in the moment’ or ‘being in the now’.
As a modern day psychological tool – as a mind-body approach- it is seen and validated as a way to combat everyday stresses and more serious mental health concerns by facilitating a connection to your grounded self rather than being caught in the thoughts into feelings into behaviour cycle – aka the vicious cycle. It is known to actively retrain the brain (also rewiring neural networks) into a firm control of emotions and a steady grasp of reality. Being in the now – right here right now – there is neither time nor place for catastrophizing.
Being right here right now – fully present – there is no past to dwell on, no future to fear. We are not lost in why, what if, or how could. We are not I can’t, I must, I should have. We are simply one with a pure reality – be that the breath we follow, the body scan we undertake, the taste sensation we experience, the bird song we attentively listen to or as mindful gardeners – the alert and considerate action of planting a plant. Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. It is the single focus of truly doing and truly being. It is suspension of judgement in favour of loving compassion – loving compassion for the task in hand, for the moment, for yourself.
The task at hand, the moment, yourself – all are the one thing in the mindful experience– there is unison in the now. But there is no magic or initiation required – just intent with follow through. Being mindful is simply being aware of what it is you are doing while you are doing it. That’s it. From that other things spring and bear fruit but that’s it. You can switch it on with intent, you can switch it on by using your senses and your focus, you can switch it on with the tools and practices in this book. You switch it on for yourself. Soon it switches on your self.
Mindfulness is highly regarded as a tool to improve and strengthen mental health – by giving back control over your mind and by allowing you to choose to calmly respond or simply let go of thoughts arising before they become deep seated feelings. The acceptance and letting go processes in mindfulness helps to cut out the aversion and avoidance cycles that add to psychological disturbance. Mindfulness stops the thought from becoming a feeling and forming an emotional hook into your brain and how you experience the world. The breathe techniques are grounding and the embracement of forgiveness, loving kindness and gratitude can reframe self-worth and also perception of the world.
Councillors and psychotherapists often recommend mindfulness meditation to treat depression, anxiety disorders, addiction / substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and other obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
Mindfulness is often promoted as a stress management technique- you certainly can employ it to catch your breath, to slow the pace and find some inner peace. It is a bit of an antidote to fast-paced and stressful modern world. It is about experiencing the moment truly and truly being yourself in that moment. It is being in the context of being full alive and truly participating with what you are doing or where you are. No daydreams, no hang-ups – pure life as it happens.
In terms of relaxation or destressing – It can be utilized as a meditation practice and in those few moments it will gift both serenity and focus. But it can also heighten your experience of life by brining mindfulness to daily chores and activities. Mindfulness is not just how you ‘be’ but how you ‘do’. To do something mindfully you give it your full attention – it is not extreme concentration but alertness – being present to what you are doing – full engaged with it and not surfing inner dialogues or suffering summoned crises.
You are present to the task at hand – the sitting meditation or the pruning of a standard shrub. Whenever thoughts arise, notice that you have thoughts and come back to awareness of what you are actually doing. When you are emotional just notice the emotion – not trying to deepen it and not trying to push it away – just come back to awareness of what you are doing. That is mindfulness – returning to the focus – being fully in the moment.
Your mind has the tendency to drift, that’s natural but as gardeners we know that we can also shape the natural and hone the experiences of nature. It can be in our nature to become more mindful. Mindfulness is not constant vigilance; it’s not that you have to be ‘on’ 24/7 but that you can switch in on when you need it. If you drift you will catch it and come back to the task in hand. Eventually you will become more efficient at it and thus also more efficient in what you do mindfully – this gained attribute of practicing mindfulness is why many companies send their employees on mindfulness courses.
Increasing GPs, health clinics and support groups often advocate mindfulness for a range of medical conditions and encourage it as a way to improve physical health – by relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins, improving sleep, providing a sense of wellbeing and happiness. Apart from the physical benefits of summoning a sense of wellbeing , mindfulness lets you know yourself and be yourself rather than be defined by your illness – mental or physical. Mindfulness takes away a mind full of adversity and emotional clutter and allows a purer you to find peace, clarity and resilience – to have the capacity for life – there is nothing more healing than that.
In becoming more mindful you are optimising your full potential. So be it a spiritual, psychological, health activation or lifestyle choice – mindfulness will improve many aspects of your life.
Ways to achieve mindfulness.
There are two ways to achieve mindfulness – one is in stillness, the other in action. So on one hand you have two paths in and on the other, there is no excuse to saying you can’t get there. If you have bought this book then you are already journeying. And that old saying that life is a journey not a destination – well so too with mindfulness. It is a skill you can hone and incorporate into your life. It will enrich the journeying. At first it is something to experience then it becomes a way to experience something, soon it is how you heighten the experience of everything; from making the bed, to making a garden, to making love and making the bed again.
The still mode is a mindful meditation; following and focusing on your breath – in and out, in and out – and returning to that deliberate attention on the inhale and exhale whenever you notice that you have wandered off the path into thoughts. The focus on the breath is the removal of all other distractions and a pure connection with your living (and breathing) self. It is pureness in the moment. Being fully present to that moment and into the next. This moment to moment attunement wires the brain for fuller concentration capacity and fuller (if not also higher) consciousness – not just within the meditation but in the rest of your life.
The action mode is just as simple – you will not need a stunt double – just a mindful approach or a switched on self in the performance of a task – it is ‘being’ in the ‘doing’. It can happen in any aspect of your everyday life. Eating your lunch, hanging out the washing, mowing the lawn – all can be done not just with alertness but with presence of self – mindfully. Simply follow your breath into the now and allow yourself to be fully there in the task without thoughts or judgements. Let your senses guide you – be fully awake to the flavour in your chew, to the process of pegging up your linen, don’t just walk it, actually feel the ground beneath your feet as you mow.
Bringing your attention to the task or action transforms it to a mindful exercise. Soon those exercises teach the brain and we might also say the mind-body-spirit to switch on the mindful mode more and more automatically. Then in the more aware state of experience in and of the action or a facet of it, we can appreciate it fully, be grateful of it and experience gratitude or loving-compassion within it. Mindfulness is heightened experience; mindfulness is true self without the distraction of thinking or wandering into thoughts that diminish the experience. It is being present to what’s going on as it is going on. This is a life not daydreamed or sleepwalked through. This is a life lived.
At first you may have to adhere to some regimented practice (breath exercises and catching the drift) to acquire the skill of mindful focus but then you can be more free flow with it. So while at first to mindfully hang out the washing is you doing the chore, alert to it (or in the flow of it) and not thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner or not just letting it be autopilot and you not really be there. It is ok as you progress to let this action mediation move into a still mode – you can be equally engaged in mindfulness by feeling the sun on your face, absorbing its warmth, expressing gratitude or acknowledging the pleasure or pleasant feeling it stirs. You can follow your breath, you can drink it all in and then you can return to finish what’s left in the basket.
Likewise following your breath as you mow and being in the action of mowing and not thinking about the watering or weeding you want or have to do after the mow is a mindful action – is an action meditation. The mowing meditation is often the recommended entry point in to making your gardening more mindful. But mindfulness is also dynamic, you can shake it up. Maybe on the next mow it’s not about grounding yourself in the action, not about the solidity of the earth beneath your feet but about the fragrance of the cut grass that wafts up about your nostrils. The breath following now is an inhale of a scent – pleasant to some, not so much to others – but judgement aside that scent is the consequence and reality of your mowing. Experiencing it is the reality of what is going on. Acknowledging it is being in the now of mowing.
So a bench in the garden for a still moment, a lawn or area to meditate will allow you make your garden a place to become more mindful but also the everyday tasks of maintaining a garden are a great opportunity to enter mindfulness too.