Stress Reduction

  • Three Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    beeWouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once? Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our brains will explode. Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated. If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it! Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while. It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again. This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

    Instead of storing everything in your mind, try writing some lists. Writing everything down gives the mind an opportunity to let go and relax for a while. As well as being practical, this is also a great way to take care of your well-being.

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result. It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day.

    Research shows that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe. In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us. So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    So next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now. Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

     

  • Enjoy Some Mindful Gardening This Spring!

    gardeningAlthough it’s still a little chilly outside, the daffodils and crocus’ are blooming which can only mean one thing: spring is just around the corner! So now’s the time to find those gardening gloves, buy some seeds or bulbs, and roll up our sleeves for some mindful time in the garden. Even if you don’t have a lot of garden space, or any at all, there’s still plenty of things that we can do to go outdoors and get our hands dirty with some lovely soil.

    In our fast-paced, technology-driven lives, gardening offers some much needed reconnection with nature, and ourselves. In the garden, nothing is instant. We can’t force plants to grow overnight. Instead, we must practice patience, awareness and some tenderness so that we can turn seeds into shoots, and shoots into full-grown plants. This makes gardening an ideal way to practice mindfulness: we can’t jump ahead to the end result, therefore we’re naturally steered toward being present in the process.

    Whether we’re cutting back an overgrown garden to create a vegetable patch, or simply potting flowers on our windowsill, there are many sensory ‘anchors’ that we can use to enrich our mindfulness practice and our gardening at the same time. For example, we can pay attention to the rich smell of the earth, the silky strands of young roots, or marvel at the potential held within a tiny seed. If we’re working outside, we can take some time to fully appreciate the fresh air entering our lungs, the water in our watering can, or if you want to get really deep, the natural cycle of life as we clear away the old, dead overgrowth to make way for fresh, new life. Being outdoors can also help us find a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves; like the plants around us, we’re also part of nature.

    As well as being a great way to ground ourselves in the present moment, gardening can double-up as an act of self-care too; by nurturing plants we also nurture ourselves. Taking time out to do something we enjoy is important for our well-being, and helps us reconnect with ourselves. Regularly giving ourselves time to do things which help us feel balanced and centred makes it easier to navigate life’s ups and downs.

    Being practical with our hands can help us step out of our busy thinking for a while, and we can easily turn gardening activities into meditation. Whenever we notice that our minds are wandering, we can use our sensory experiences to guide us back to the present.

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    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

    centreIn this uncertain world, we try our best to find routine and predictability, hoping that these things will make life easier. However, life isn’t so great at cooperating with our plans! Life is messy, so what can we do?

    Using mindfulness to find some inner balance can help us cope with the ups and downs life throws at us. Finding our centre can help us navigate this ever-changing world with more ease.

    The first step is to recognise the beliefs and ideas we have about how our experience ought to be. For example, when something painful happens and we react with thoughts of ‘this isn’t fair’ or ‘this isn’t right’, we can use these as prompts to check in with our beliefs. What we may find is that our beliefs stem from simply wanting to avoid pain or discomfort.

    The next step is to understand that this is completely natural. No one wants to suffer. In this way, we are the same as every living being, and we can use this understanding to give ourselves, and others, some compassion. Seeing these reactions as universal, and not due to some personal failing, we can then loosen a little around these beliefs. We can’t shake them off entirely of course, but they may become a bit less heavy.

    Once we recognise and understand what’s going on in our minds, we can then take some practical steps to find our centre. By ‘centre’ we mean that deeper part of you; the part that is more spacious and therefore more accommodating to what is currently happening. You could try thinking of it as stepping out of the beliefs and ideas that make life painful (i.e. this is wrong, this is bad, this shouldn’t be), and into a wider space, the space that exists between those thoughts. Here in this space there is room for what actually ‘is’, and it is always there for us to take refuge in.

    How we connect with that centre may vary depending on what works best for us personally. We may find that simply focussing on the breath is enough to get us there. Or we may need to take some time away from everyone else to meditate for a while. Perhaps we might find our centre through mindful movement practices, or by going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air. Maybe it’s by placing our hand on our heart. Whatever it is, it will be something that reconnects you with this moment right here. This is where you’ll find your balance again.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • There’s More to Looking After Our Bodies Than Diet and Exercise

    1Let’s just start by saying that a good diet and exercise are super ways to nurture our bodies! However, there is no shortage of advice on eating well and working out, especially at this time of year. Instead, this blog post will look at other, less obvious ways that we can ground ourselves in the body and find more enriching physical experiences.

    Becoming more connected and in tune with our physical bodies is an effective way of becoming more mindful. By bringing more awareness to our physical experience, we naturally come more into the present moment, using our senses as anchors to the here and now. It can also help us adopt a more self-nurturing and self-compassionate approach toward ourselves.

    Mindful Movement

    Mindful movement practices sometimes double up as exercise, for example something like yoga is great for strengthening muscles as well as practicing mindfulness. Yet, there are other ways we can practice mindful movement; ways which focus less on fitness or weight loss, and more on simply enjoying the movement of the body for its own sake.

    Those of us who spend all day at a computer may particularly benefit from connecting with our bodies more. How often do we reach the end of the working day and discover tightness in the shoulders or an achy back? We can be so focussed on our work or studies that we disconnect from the body completely. Yet if we can make a habit of regularly checking in with the body, we can start to give it some more movement and flexibility.

    So right now, tune in for a moment. How does your body feel? Sense into your feet, legs, back, shoulders, even down through your hands to your fingers. Are there any parts of the body that want to stretch or wiggle? If you feel comfortable with it, why not stand up for a moment and get curious about how your body wants to move. Maybe you feel like bending forward to touch the ground, rolling your shoulders, circling your hips, or raising your arms high above your head for a tall stretch. You can’t get this wrong; it’s all about taking notice of your current experience, and meeting it with openness. Notice how any stretching or movements affect your mood or energy levels. Have some fun with it!

    Comfort and Cosiness

    There’s nothing like putting on your favourite pyjama’s and curling up in a freshly made bed to read a good book. Or perhaps your favourite comfort is to wear some fluffy socks as you watch TV with your cat. Whatever makes you feel comfy and cosy, try to regularly do those things for yourself, as a way of treating your body with kindness and care. Bringing mindful attention to these comforts can make them feel even more yummy! Notice how your self-nurturing intentions affect your body.

    Sensory Pleasures

    This could mean so many different things; from finding a shower gel in your favourite scent, to being touched by your partner in certain ways (or touching yourself). Getting to know what feels, smells, looks or sounds good to us, and then consciously giving ourselves those things is important to our well-being, and helps us engage with the physical world around us. We can use these pleasurable sensations as a type of meditation. For example, we can listen to our favourite songs and really notice all the musical elements in the piece, or we can place things around our home that we love the look of, and spend some time admiring the small details of those items. Bringing more awareness to our sensory experiences may even help us start to enjoy things we normally do on auto-pilot, such as brushing our teeth or applying moisturiser to our faces.

    Our bodies don’t need to be perfect in order for us to enjoy the physical world around us. Having fitness or healthy eating goals can be very rewarding, yet by taking the time to look after our bodies in other ways too we can step out of seeing our bodies as a ‘project’ that needs work, and start to simply enjoy the fact that we have a body that can move, feel and have experiences.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    Face Relaxation Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

    Eating Awareness Training Workshop

     

  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

    mug
    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

    bambi
    The mind is a constant whir of activity. Without any effort, our minds can jump from past regrets to concerns about the future to mentally noting that doctor’s appointment we have next week. If our minds are particularly busy, this stream of thinking can sometimes become too much for us to take. The non-stop nature of it can be overwhelming.

    Naturally, we want to retreat. And we might do so in a number of different ways. We may have a glass of wine, or a cigarette, or some cake, or switch on the TV and zone out. We might constantly check social media for distractions, or go on shopping sprees, yet this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us that sense of respite we so badly need.

    Thankfully there is a better refuge available to us, one which we can access at any time, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves, so we’ll never be without it.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or even intense excitement (this can be overwhelming sometimes too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief. When our minds have become tumultuous with thought – each passing thought like a wave that rocks our little boat in a stormy sea, and the rocking never seems to end – we can take a deep breath and…. ahhhh, the waves settle; sometimes just a little, but sometimes a lot! The more we practice, the easier it gets to remember to take those important moments of refuge.

    Try it now. Take a deep breath…. and let it out slowly. How has it changed the quality of this moment?

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    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

  • Practical Tips for Practising Mindfulness

    NYThere are so many benefits to be gained from regular mindfulness practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve learning processes, memory and emotional regulation (just to name a few things!) by prompting changes in different regions of the brain. However, in the same way that it can be difficult to get into new exercise or healthy eating habits, it can be hard to turn mindfulness into a daily practice, even if we know how much we will benefit from doing so. Once we’ve gotten into the swing of things, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice becomes much easier. But what steps can we take when we’re first starting out that will help us incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines?

    Using Your Phone as a Mindfulness Prompt

    The simplest and easiest way that we can become more regularly mindful is to set an alarm on our phone or watch. By setting alarms to go off at certain times of the day, our present mindful self can remind our future self (who might have become a bit mindless by that point) to take a pause and breathe.

    How long we choose to pause for is completely down to us, but even if we’re working at our desks when the alarm sounds, we can take a moment to adjust our posture and let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, so that we can continue with our work in a more present mindset.

    It’s best to choose a gentle alarm tone, rather than something that will jolt or aggravate you when it goes off. Experiment with setting alarms at different times of the day, maybe focusing on times that you know you could particularly use a mindfulness prompt, for example on your commute to work, at lunchtime, or as you’re winding down in the evening.

    Making Time to Sit

    Even though we know that meditation is good for us, we can probably come up with lots of reasons not to do it. When faced with the choice between watching our favourite TV show and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, the TV show is probably going to seem more entertaining! Once we’ve gotten into a regular meditation practice, the benefits we feel from it will motivate us to make time for it. Yet until that happens, we might need to give ourselves a little push to make the effort. Setting a regular time for meditation can help us do this.

    Pick a time of the day that you’re most likely to be able to stick to. For example, if you’re always rushed in the mornings, it might be better to choose a time in the evening when things aren’t so hectic. It might be useful to start off with a short amount of time, like five or ten minutes. You can then increase your meditation time once you start to get comfortable with it. Try your best to sit down to meditate every day at your chosen time, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Just remember, it will get easier the more you do it.

    And if you do miss a day? Or two, or five? It’s okay! Go easy on yourself. Just try to keep that intention going, and start over again if you need to.

    Find a Meditation Buddy

    Sometimes sharing a routine with a friend can make it easier to stick to. It’s so tempting to make excuses and reasons not to do something when it’s just us, but we generally don’t like to let our friends down. We tend to make more of an effort to stay on track with our plans when we know that someone else is also benefiting from it. Plus the social side of it might make it more enjoyable if we don’t like sitting alone.

    Alternatively, if you want some guidance and a structured routine, it might be beneficial to join a regular meditation group. Here at The Mindfulness Project we host a weekly evening meditation for people who have completed an 8-week Mindfulness Course. Check out our calendar for more information on what’s coming up at our space!

  • Mindful Walking: At Home, In Nature and in the City

    walking

    Mindful walking is a wonderful practice that can really centre us in our bodies and the present moment. By becoming more familiar with the intricacies of movement, we can experience a new-found appreciation for something that we do all the time, usually without giving it much attention.

    How we practice mindful walking will vary depending on where we are doing it. Here are three different ways that we can practice mindful walking in our day-to-day lives.

    Walking Meditation At Home

    The easiest place to start practicing mindful walking is in our own home. In the privacy of our own space, we can take the time to really slow down, creating a more intimate connection with how our bodies work and move, away from noise, other people, etc.

    Start off by finding a clear space to walk around in. It doesn’t have to be a big space; just enough room to take a few mindful steps back and forth will do.

    Before taking the first step, close your eyes for a moment and focus on the breath, gently trying to let go of any worries or thoughts. If it’s helpful, you can imagine your thoughts melting away through the breath, letting them leave the body as you exhale.

    Opening your eyes, you can then begin with the first step. Lift your leg as you normally would, only slowing the movement right down, so that you become aware of how the leg feels as it lifts the foot away from the ground. As you step forward, bring awareness to how the hips, thighs, knees and calves all work together, on both sides of the body. As the foot reconnects with the floor, notice how the toes, the ball of the foot, and the heel feels as they individually make contact with the carpet or tiles.

    Is the ground warm or cool? Soft or hard? If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the movement of the leg or foot and notice the different qualities of the process. Try walking up and down for a while in this way, remembering to breathe, and gently re-focussing the mind when it drifts onto other things. Does the practice change your mood? How does it feel in the body to slow down in this way? Whatever experiences or sensations arise, try to be open to them, noticing them with a sense of curiosity, in the same way as when we are doing a seated meditation.

    Mindful Walking In Nature

    “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thích Nhất Hạnh

    When we’re in the countryside or at the beach we can not only practice becoming aware of our individual bodies, but we can also start to see ourselves as one small part of a bigger picture. Our body takes its place as one instrument in nature’s orchestra of wildlife, swaying trees, breezes, flowing rivers or waves on the sea. Seeing ourselves as a valid and equal part of life in this way can be very healing, and can offer us opportunities to cultivate gratitude and self-compassion.

    To build on our mindful walking practice, we can expand our awareness to how our footsteps or presence affects our immediate surroundings, and reversely how our surroundings affect us. For example, if we are walking on grass or sand, we can notice how our foot sinks into it, flattening it, perhaps leaving an indentation behind us. We might not feel comfortable walking quite as slowly as we do at home, but this is okay. However quickly or slowly we walk, there is always the opportunity to bring awareness into it. And if we need to duck under branches or jump across streams along the way, we can also do this mindfully, noticing and enjoying the different movements of the body.

    Resisting the City Rush

    It’s one thing to walk mindfully at home or in the tranquillity of nature, but staying mindful in a city or town can be challenging. With so much noise and activity all around us, it’s hard not to get swept away by the rush. This is especially true when we’re walking along routine routes, for example walking to or from work. We’re sometimes so focused on our destination that we completely switch off for the journey. However, even in the hustle and bustle of city life, we can still add some mindfulness to our steps.

    If we want to walk more mindfully in such a busy environment, it’s important to centre ourselves. Using the breath as an anchor can help us feel grounded in the midst of sensory overload. By taking some deep, conscious breaths we can take a step back from our thoughts about everything that’s going on around us, and we can find a place of inner strength and calm.

    We can then set the intention to notice more about our movement, starting a similar process as the walking meditation, only not as slowly. We’re bound to find our minds wandering frequently in the city, but again, each time we notice this we can gently return our attention to the breath, and to our steps.

    Why not experiment with kissing the pavement, the underground escalators and the Tube train floors with your feet, and see how it changes your journey?

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness in nature? Check out our upcoming Mindfulness and Nature Connection workshop here.

  • My Mindfulness Journey

    daisy

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens. So when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly. I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following 8 weeks would make.

    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this. The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi helped me see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the course.

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week. Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the 8-week course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices and you could adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you. This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again. This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

    Surprising Benefits

    Before the course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible. Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

    Having completed the 8-week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way. I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it. For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset. However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway. That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now, and those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism. In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways. For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I now have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes. But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

  • Taking the Rush Out of Life with Mindfulness

    londonDo you ever feel like the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? Always looking at the clock, feeling that there’s no time? That eternal sense of ‘I must rush on to the next thing’. Work and family commitments, household chores, even scheduled leisure time activities, can all give us the feeling that there’s a never-ending list of things to get done. Rather than living from a place of presence, we find ourselves caught up in our mental to-do list, always missing the present moment experience, always thinking ahead to what’s next in line.

    This way of being can cause a lot of stress and tension in our lives. It can also leave us feeling detached from what really matters to us; that we are not living fully, only existing to achieve this task, and then the next, and the next. But the practice of mindfulness can provide respite from this sense of needing to rush. By reconnecting with ourselves and the moment, we can give ourselves the gift of greater peace of mind.

    Resistance to Slowing Down

    When we’re feeling rushed, the thought of taking a moment to pause may at first seem impossible. It might even add extra tension: “Not only have I got this, this and this do to, but now I’ve also got to take a few moments to breathe? Yeah right!” It’s natural to feel some resistance to it, after all isn’t it just piling on another task for us to complete?

    If we see mindfulness as something to achieve then of course this will just add to our sense of not having enough time. However, those moments of feeling overwhelmed are the perfect moments to take a breather. Imagine a traffic jam; all the lanes are closed, and the cars are just piling up behind the blockade. The mounting fumes from running engines, the noise from car radios, the stress of being late, of being stuck, it all just keeps growing and growing. Then someone opens one of the lanes and the cars start passing through. Then another lane is opened, and before long the traffic is running smoothly again. This is what we do when we take a moment to slow down. Rather than making the problem worse, it helps everything run more efficiently. Our rushing thoughts are the cars in the traffic jam, clogging up our experience, and our mindful moments are the opening of the lanes to let them through.

    Noticing the Signals

    When we’re caught in our to-do list, it’s like we’re living in a trance, missing everything around us and disconnected from our feelings and needs. But thoughts like “there’s not enough time” provide signals that tell us we’re not present. That’s not to say that such thoughts mean we’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they’re a totally natural response to the stressful lives we lead. Yet if we become attuned to noticing these types of thoughts, plus feelings of tension or tightness in the body, we can start to use these as cues to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with the moment.

    What’s Important Right Now?

    “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.”Suzuki Roshi

    If we’re feeling stressed and rushed, it’s likely that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important to us. It’s useful to take some time to reflect on what is truly important to our hearts. Is it really having a spotless home, working into the evening, or constantly pleasing others? Or is it things like spending quality time with our loved ones, cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, and building a life around our true values? We might tell ourselves that once we have done all the things we need to do, then we will become attentive to what really matters. Yet how likely is it that our to-do list will shrink without some intention on our part to make it so? If we knew that today was our last day, would we still feel we had time to rush? Or would we realise that our time is precious and that it matters to us to pay attention to the here and now? Not out of some sense of ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ – which is where our rushed feelings come from – but because it personally matters to us.

    We have responsibilities. Practicing mindfulness won’t magic them away. However, we can hold the intention to pause and appreciate the moment, even if our appreciation is only for little things like a smile from a stranger, or the sun shining. We tend to think of life as a long journey spreading out in front of us, but actually life is a succession of these small moments. If we notice them and feel grateful for them, we may still have our to-do list, but the ‘doing’ of life can become less an automatic chore and more an active, conscious, and hopefully enjoyable engagement with our own hearts and the world around us.

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