For the last few weeks I’ve been studying mindfulness. I’ve been taking an eight week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress-reduction) course, reading a lot about it, and of course, attempting to actually implement it. I’ve come to the conclusion that mindfulness is the key to fulfillment.
I’ve been meditating for a few years now and the benefits have been astounding, but it’s only recently that I started to seriously attempt to bring the awareness I was developing on the meditation cushion over into my every day life. The results have been so much more positive than I expected.
For those of you that are out of the loop, mindfulness is pretty simple in essence. It basically means to be here, now. Whatever you’re doing, whatever your circumstances. In that sense, mindfulness is a sort of meta-skill, meaning that it’s an activity or practice that affects all other activities. Sort of in the same way that improving your grammar and vocabulary affects your ability to study and learn the entire spectrum of academic disciplines.
You can be mindful while eating, or while walking to school, in a conversation, standing in line at the store, reading, exercising, while doing anything really. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, mindfulness is always a stone’s throw away. And the strangest aspect of practicing mindfulness is this: Awareness is curative in and of itself.
There’s a reason MBSR is such a huge thing now: because practicing mindfulness, that is, developing your every day awareness, actually does result in stress reduction. That’s what I’ve experienced anyway.
The Perils of Multitasking
I used to always read while eating. At least, I would try to read. Normally I would manage to read at most two pages in whatever book I was reading while shoveling down my food, without even actually remembering what I read. And I also didn’t enjoy my food, because I was too focused on trying to multitask that I couldn’t enjoy the taste and texture of whatever I was eating. Bummer.
I kept this up for years, but I’ve stopped now. Why? Because I found that as soon as I started to actually just eat, I started to chill out. I think that when I try to do more than one thing at a time, I’m sending my body the message that my time is limited. Which means I should hurry, which means I should release stress hormones. Make sense?
That’s another thing I’ve consciously stopped doing: Hurrying. Hurrying is such a stupid thing to do anyway, unless you’re actually missing a bus or late for a meeting or something. And even then, you only need to hurry just enough to catch the bus, or arrive on time. There’s no need to stay in hurry mode while waiting for the next bus after missing the one before it, or to keep feeling stressed because you arrived ten minutes late. What’s done is done, just be here now.
What is hurry?
Hurrying is really a way of postponing the present for some future event. You think ‘I can’t be here now, because I need to be there, then!’. It’s ridiculous, really. Like I said though, hurrying has its place, even though it’s always pretty unpleasant.
The real problem for me at least has been hurrying for no reason whatsoever. Like hurrying up with washing the dishes because I want to then hang up my laundry because then and only then can I enjoy lying on the sofa to read a book, or have a cup of tea. But what I’ve found is that I can feel quite fulfilled washing dishes or hanging up wet clothes when I actually decide to do it with conscious awareness.
Moving my attention away from thoughts or cravings for some future point in time, instead focusing on the sensations of handling wet cloth, or the sound of running water, or the light bouncing off slick porcelain. When I said that awareness was curative, this is partly what I meant. When we become fully aware of the present moment, whatever it may hold, all kinds of changes take place. Heartbeat slows down, adrenaline production decreases, muscular tension dissolves.
It’s not that you’re suddenly in control of these automatic responses to stress, but instead that by virtue of moving out of doing into being, the mind and body calm down. It’s incredible when you realize this simple truth.
Try it out for yourself. You don’t need an expensive course, you don’t even need to buy a book. Everything you need to feel fulfilled is right here, right now.