Below the surface of your mind, in the deep neural structures of your brain, is a hidden world. Dark and forbidding, we might think of it as deep space, where elemental forces are at work, shaping the internal order of our mind. It is an unexplored wilderness full of noise, relentless energy, and intense sensation. The 'wild mind' is a place of awe and wonder that never sleeps.
Sometimes your wild mind is restless, bored, or craving sensation. Sometimes it is detached, or distracted and unable to connect to itself. This causes you suffering, and if you never rest the mind, or bathe it in silence once in a while, you can quickly get overloaded.
Just think of what you throw at it - constant alert signals from computers and phones; the ongoing flow of human communication; the complexity of emotional responses to loved ones; your sensory interaction with the natural world; the haphazard nature of survival, even as you cross the road; a multitude of problem-solving tasks you perform at work; and your endless capacity for decision-making in everyday life.
As a result, the wild mind is continually being intruded upon by intense sensations and contaminated by automatic defense responses such as boredom, frustration, or anger. You may suffer from anxiety, panic, or depression.
But like the wilderness itself, your wild mind is also a self-organising principle - interconnected to every object and living organism in the world around it. It is capable of achieving moments of clarity, balance, fluidity, and deep calm.
If you want to preserve your wild mind, you must find the time and space to restore it to equilibrium. Mental illness is on the rise. We are all capable of this; one in four of us will suffer a serious psychological crisis in our lifetime. It is the unintended consequence of our busy, hectic lifestyles, and the stressful conditions we have created for ourselves.
In a technologically advanced world which panders to our every need, our quality of life really has improved with medical advances, instant communication, ambient lighting, and air conditioning. But there is another side to this story. Far from making our lives easier with technology, it is also making our lives worse. It is overloading us with endless stimulation, more to do and less time to be. Like the Victorian factories of old, we are trapped in an endless cycle of slavery to the machinery of production and consumption, 24/7.
The sad thing is... you know it. You sense it. So don’t pretend you believe it’s the way life was meant to be. Somewhere in your wild mind you’re screaming. You’re aware of it and it actually hurts, but no-one’s listening.
Whilst, superficially, our working conditions appear safer, more convenient, and more user-friendly, they are in fact more cramped, noisy, faceless, airless, artificial, and harmful environments from which we never seem to escape. Our living conditions are contaminated with chemical pollutants, noise, plastics, and supercharged sensory stimuli. The places in which we are trapped, even when working from home, continuously call upon us to be alert: responding to an endless array of emails, texts, and communication devices. A constant sense of urgency is plugged into our lives. Anxiety is rife.
Just think of that need-to-answer message in the middle of the night, the flickering light of your computer screen, or the late-night surfing sessions and online shopping sprees. All of which we succumb to in an effort to free ourselves from, and yet only end up reinforcing, stress.
Even when we’re out with friends, many of us bury our heads in social media. We talk at superficial levels about this and that, yet come away feeling unfulfilled.
We lack connection to ourselves and others. Something is missing, but we try to ignore it. We only admit it when it’s too late and our relationships have imploded - saying "if only I had listened or paid more attention to the ones I love". Yet we are too frightened to pause and reflect. Somehow, we end up convincing ourselves that this is how real life is supposed to be, and carry on regardless.
Sometimes you need a moment to pause, to slow down and recover. Just let it be.
We can do this by being mindful, enjoying the silence, solitude, and serenity of our own being. In three easy steps, mindfulness is the key to creating optimal states of body and mind. But you need to know that being mindful is a process. It won’t be instant or overnight.
Mindfulness is a paradox - simple, yet complex. You will fight it, resist it, and stubbornly sabotage your own progress long before you make a breakthrough. You will get bored, and resent having to make the effort. You will push away the silence, afraid to listen to your inner voice. Along the way, however, you will also catch glimpses of genuine peace. You will learn, slowly, to be at one.
The good thing is that mindfulness practice does not require perfectionism. It does not demand absolute discipline, or promise nirvana. You’re not supposed to empty your mind or transcend normal human existence. You do not need to live a separate life, cut off from reality. There is a middle way.
Mindfulness only asks of you one thing - to observe. As an ordinary person, you are capable of slowing down enough to notice what is already there, by observing your bodily sensations. You may notice feelings of pain, joy, upset, stress, or gratitude. You may get bored, restless, or irritated, but slowly you learn to acknowledge and accept what is, without wishing it to be different or trying it to change it.
Mindfulness is not one of the big gestures like achieving a state of near perfection, having mastery over your emotions, being righteous or an eternally good person, and it isn’t born out of a permanent conversion experience. That will only cause you suffering by overreaching your expectations.
Mindfulness is about being able to sit with yourself quietly and observe who you really are in each and every moment, by sitting and paying attention to subtle or intense emotions as they arise; watching them but not wishing them to be different or trying to change them; learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, even pain, and sit alongside these sensations in your body as they emerge.
It takes time to learn this skill. You will fight with it, neglect it, ignore, and forget, but slowly it will come... if you let it.
So, how is it done? You might sit in your garden, slow down, and breathe deeply. Then, slowly turn your attention to your bodily sensations - the smell of a flower, watching a bee laden with pollen flitting from bud-to-bud, listening to the roar of the plane above or the raucous call of crows, the twinge of pain in your ankle, or the harsh music blaring out.
You learn to accept that they are all there, because they are. See if you can stay with them present in your mind, without wishing to change any of those sensations, but letting them be within you, whether they cause you pain or pleasure.
It isn’t that this is easy; no one likes being in pain. It's not a case of ending up entirely free of suffering; rather beginning to notice that you are a little more tolerant than yesterday, a little more relaxed, slightly less burdened by your own acts of self-sabotage, a little more grateful for the smaller things in life.
More than anything, mindfulness is a gentle reminder to stop and observe what is - to notice things as they are even when you don’t like them, to be aware of how you struggle and fight, to cultivate curiosity and self-awareness, to be compassionate enough to let go of whatever you need to, and to remember to feel a sense of gratitude, being present in your own life.
Being present is not easy, but it is simple.
It is as simple as taking one easy breath, while paying attention to the sensation it creates from the beginning to the end of its cycle.
Now try it. Sit in a comfortable, upright position, stand, or walk with slow, fluid rhythm. Breathe in through your nose and out through the mouth. There's no need to count, no special technique, and no perfectionism. Just one easy breath, in-and-out, trusting your body to do its best, and letting the breath... breathe, itself, noticing while you do it.
There, it is simple! No mastery required. One simple breath is all you have to notice it; that is acceptance. It is all that is required of you.
Accept that you can; accept who you are, and that who you are is only contingent on what you feel in any given moment. No other version of you exists.
The art of self-acceptance is what you are doing now, without even trying.
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