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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