Mindfulness; right here, right now
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Ian Woollams MBACP Accred
22nd January, 20160 Comments
Mindfulness is a way of calming your mind and reducing anxiety. It also reduces the ‘fight or flight’ responses to remembered traumatic experiences. Its origins are ancient and rooted in Eastern religions, philosophy and practices such as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, yoga and many martial arts.
It is used to prepare the mind and body for meditation or action that requires awareness of your whole self in the present moment. It does this by focusing your attention. This can be on whatever you are doing, it could be noticing what thoughts may be driving your mind crazy or giving you pains in your body. It does this without joining up and getting lost within them. Instead, it teaches you to learn to ‘stand by’ yourself; simply observing these sensations and thoughts and being curious about them. Buddhists have described our minds as being like ‘monkey-minds’, leaping chaotically around without reason or end. It’s like playing ping-pong inside your head with sometimes so many players that it can make you feel like a headless chicken! I’m sure you know what I mean. These distractions are all around us with our busy lives so it is easy to get lost in these voices, demands and painful difficulties.
When I was a teenager I discovered that washing the pots was really satisfying. I loved the whole thing of sorting out what to wash first, then clean each item and carefully place it in the drying rack. For years I thought I was just a bit weird (which might be true!) but I loved this simple task and I still do. It gave me a sense of a job-well-done that needed doing. Both myself and others could then benefit from my efforts; creating a tidy kitchen ready for use again. At the time I was living in a shared house and I noticed that sometimes my housemates would say thanks for doing this. Nearly always there was some sort of action or thought from them at a later date that seemed to pay me back for my act of generosity.
Many years later when I was reading about Buddhism and its practice, I discovered that this was in fact a daily activity that I was doing mindfully. At last my weirdness had an explanation!
Using our curiosity of what’s really going on in us in the present moment, allows us to stand by the side of ourselves. Bringing our attention to what’s going on with our thoughts and in our body can teach us to notice them; but not join up with them. We cease to struggle with ourselves by just being curious. Allowing things to be, without being tempted to join in with those struggles. This calms our mind and relaxes our body. Immediately we find ourselves in this ‘observing self’ position. From here we can observe ourselves whilst being totally neutral; without judgement, criticism or any harshness. We can then advise ourselves from a wise position, what might be best for us?
Like my discovery of mindfully washing the pots, you can use everyday activities to practise using your attention to really focus on what you are doing. When outdoors, really look around at the environment and try naming your observations. "Here is a tree with deep green leaves". Go up to it and really look thoroughly at the leaves. Can you see that each leaf is actually made of many different colours?
There’s a building with fascinating structures, but stand and consider that an architect has laboured for months considering every shape and detail. You have already taken part in a mindful practice "right here, right now" simply by reading this article and concentrating your attention on these words. Perhaps you could find your own ‘washing the pots’ practice? You may well get greater enjoyment and meaning by doing it mindfully.
If you’d like to know more about how you could use mindfulness to help with anxiety or traumatic experiences, then contact me via my profile or website.
About the author
I currently work as a Trauma Focused Counsellor with Survivors Manchester, working with male survivors of sexual abuse. I also have a private practice in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, Cheshire. See 'Open hand counselling' on this web site or www.openhandcounselling.co.uk.
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