Mindful or mindless
New Year’s resolutions aren’t like ordinary goals, they have a far more powerful effect on our psyche. The end of one year and the start of another symbolises new beginnings, a new chapter, and another chance to achieve the things we’ve always dreamt of. As we shift into a new decade this sense of new beginnings is even more potent. As with previous years, our 2020 New Year’s resolutions are laden with a desire to set long-term healthy habits, to help us navigate through life’s challenges and keep us on track to achieve the future we long for. Yet in an era where technology brings us unprecedented levels of global awareness, reflecting on the past and looking towards the future is not done lightly. We live in a time where it is easy to become overwhelmed by responsibility or numb and complacent with compassion fatigue.
The birth of a new decade brings with it a growing concern about changing climate, rising population, poverty, displacement of refugees, species extinction, down-turning economies, human rights violations and the impact of acts of terror. With all of these complex issues on the table, it may not be easy for a progressive thinker to justify prioritising personal wellbeing at the top of their list. Yet our need to prioritise wellbeing is becoming self-evident. It is clear that our increasing global reliance on the internet, smartphones and social media, correlate with the risk of burnout, insomnia, and loneliness. In these highly stressful times, it’s more important than ever to know how to take a mental break. This is where Mindfulness has taken centre stage as a practice for relieving stress and unlocking individual potential.
Derived from ancient Buddhist philosophy and placed under the rigorous scrutiny of evidence-based psychological research, Mindfulness has found a foothold in our collective conscious, essentially becoming the backbone of modern self-care during these past 10 years. Put simply, Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, and with open-hearted curiosity, to the present moment – to what is happening in your body, your mind and in the world around you. Practically speaking this involves doing training exercises of meditation each day and then applying what you learn from this to your everyday challenges and long-term goals.
Adopting a New Year’s resolution is all very well in theory; we all yearn for better health, more happiness and improved wellbeing. We therefore find it relatively easy to set off on our journey through the new year with good intent, setting new habits and holding them for the first few weeks or even months. Yet when the holiday season fades to a memory and the stress of long days of work, compounded by family commitments once again take hold, it is easy to find reasons to give up on the trips to the gym and justify an extra glass of wine at the end of the day. Stress triggers automatic behaviour, routine habits we have established over the years that have become familiar and safe remain our go-to when the going gets tough. We rarely even notice we are doing it. This is where Mindfulness steps in; helping us to develop an awareness of our internal state and the feelings that are driving our behaviour. Mindfulness allows us space and time to sit with difficult feelings, to make deliberate choices toward more helpful behaviour whilst reminding us that we are not perfect and that’s OK.
Mindfulness helps us to overcome a sense of perfection by encouraging us to go easy on ourselves. Life is not perfect. We are not perfect. Mindfulness reminds us that being imperfect is normal. Instead of struggling with imperfection we can learn to recognise and accept what is; balancing what we can change and what we cannot with a sense of self-compassion and kindness. If we miss a trip to the gym or enjoy a few glasses of wine with friends, we can let go of the tendency towards berating ourselves with hurtful self-talk and allow ourselves to return to our new habits when we can. That being said although Mindfulness sounds like a simple cure-for-all-ills, it is not an easy state of being to achieve in an ongoing way. Like all worthwhile skillsets being Mindful takes practice. If being Mindful is the end goal, then practising meditation is the training ground for developing Mindfulness.
Like learning any new skill, we cannot expect to be good at anything unless we first give time to practising it. The relationship between meditation and mindfulness is the equivalent to practising scales on a piano before you can become a concert pianist or learning to swim before you can surf. It is during meditation that we become aware of our thoughts, our emotions and the sensations in our bodies and begin to notice how these all affect our behaviour. With ongoing meditation practice over time, we slowly become aware of the patterns in our thinking and learn to create some distance from our passing thoughts. We learn to just be with what is. Other benefits include the ability to draw ourselves back to the present moment to experience the immediate sensations of smell, sound sight and touch around us, this can help combat anxiety caused by rumination. We also develop focus, with a capacity to concentrate or quickly let go of distractions as they arise. Different forms of meditation deliver different outcomes. Some forms of meditation help us develop the capacity to reflect and make effective decisions that are both logical and kind. This impacts our behaviour and our willingness to move towards the things that are important to us, even if they are challenging. Other forms of meditation teach us self-care and promote our sense of wellbeing and place in the world. Whilst practises that focus on visualisations help us unwind thus setting a benchmark for a relaxed state. Meditation also teaches us about aversion, how it feels to sit with aspects of ourselves that we would prefer to turn away from. This can act as a training ground to recognise our biases and encourages to remain open and curious rather than perpetuating old habits that keep us closed down.
Each of these practices translates into mindful awareness, the ability to make decisions in each moment and therefore behave in ways that lead us towards the life we want to live. Practising mindfulness and meditation not only allows us to feel better about ourselves, it also offers us a different perspective on the world in which we live. As a way to begin a New Year and a new decade Mindfulness is the skill set that helps us achieve all our other goals and habits. On it’s deepest level Mindfulness leads us towards a compassionate way of being; gentle with ourselves and the world around us. This is the future we are all working towards.
If you would like to learn more, please feel free to get in touch with me. Use the code ‘meditation’ to book into a free introductory class of your choice or, if you cannot travel to Healesville, reach out to me for 20% off your first private online training session.
By Joanna Joustra
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In an era when it is becoming increasingly evident to quantify that meditation reduces stress and supports mental and physical health, there is another value proposition that is also worth considering. Although not as easy to measure, meditation appears to also allow us to become more true to ourselves in the way we are and the way we relate to others. Could it therefore be said that meditation allows us space to become more authentic?