The focus of my life in recent months has been living mindfully, and while I don’t always remember to do that, I have learnt a few things worth sharing.
The first is that a mindful life is worth the effort. It’s a life where we awaken from the dream state we’re most often submerged in – the state of having your mind anywhere but the present moment, locked in thoughts about what you’re going to do later, about something someone else said, about something you’re stressing or angry about.
The state of mind where we’re lost in our social media.
It’s worth the effort, because being awake means we’re not missing life as we walk through it. Being awake means we’re conscious of what’s going on inside us, as it happens, and so can make more conscious choices rather than acting on our impulses.
The second thing I’ve learnt is that we forget. We forget, over and over, to be awake. And that’s okay. Being mindful is a process of forgetting, and then remembering. Repeatedly. Just as breathing is a process of exhaling, and then inhaling, repeatedly.
The third is that mindful living isn’t just one thing. It’s not just meditation. Nor is it just focusing on the sensations around you, right now in this moment. Mindful living can be a set of related tools, perhaps all different ways of getting at the same thing, but each useful.
I’ll share them here, and hope that you’ll consider each in turn.
Why you should care
Why bother to spend time learning these tools? Is it just for some ideal of living a peaceful, stress-free life?
No. A stress-free life doesn’t exist, but these tools will make you more prepared to deal with the stresses that will inevitably come your way.
But just as importantly, they’ll help you overcome the fear of failure and fear of discomfort that’s holding you back, that’s keeping you from making positive changes in your life.
These tools will help you launch your new blog, start a business, write a book, put out your first music album online, find your purpose in life, become the person you’ve always wanted to be.
Meditation is where mindful living starts. And it’s not complicated: You can sit still for even just one minute a day to start with (work up to three to five minutes after a week), and turn your attention to your body and then your breath.
Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath. Repeat until the minute is up.
2. Be awake.
Meditation is practice for being awake, which is not being in the dream state (mind wandering into a train of thought, getting lost in the online world, thinking about past offences, stressing about the future, etc.) but being awake to the present, to what is.
Being awake is something you can do throughout the day, all the time, if you remember. Remembering is the trick.
3. Watch urges.
When I quit smoking, the most useful tool I learnt was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on them, and this helped me change my other habits.
Watch your urge to check social media, to eat something sweet, to drink alcohol, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go; you don’t have to act on them.
4. Watch ideals.
We all have ideals, all the time. We have an ideal that our day will go perfectly, that people will be kind and respectful to us, that we will be perfect, that we’ll never fail.
We know from experience that those ideals aren’t realistic. But we still have them, and they cause our stress, fears and grief over something/someone we’ve lost. By letting go of ideals, we can let go of our suffering.
5. Accept people and life as they are.
When I stopped trying to change a loved one, and accepted him for who he was, I was able to just be with him and enjoy my time with him.
This acceptance has the same effect for anything you do – accept a co-worker, a child, a spouse, but also accept a ‘bad’ situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound.
When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.
6. Let go of expectations.
It’s useful to watch your expectations of an upcoming situation, a new project or business, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that cause it.
7. Become okay with discomfort.
The fear of discomfort is huge – it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. But we can be okay with discomfort, with practice.
Start with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding your comfort zone.
8. Watch your resistance.
When you try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something you like or are used to, you’ll find resistance. But you can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it.
Watch your resistance to things that annoy you – a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound but your resistance to the sound. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt.
9. Be curious.
Too often we are stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be, how people are. Instead, be curious. Find out. Experiment.
Let go of what you think you know. When you start a new project, if you feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail,” try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn’t the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious.
10. Be grateful.
We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.
11. Let go of control.
We often think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organisation is rooted in the illusion that we can control life.
But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected disrupts everything. Don’t be frustrated. Practice letting go of control, and learn to flow.
12. Be compassionate.
Compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world. Compassion for yourself is life-changing.
These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.
The process of learning mindfulness is forgetting, and then remembering.
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