Let's talk about mindfulness
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness /ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/ is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
That's the definition of the word, but if I have to explain it as simple as possible, I'd say being mindful means being present and aware, avoiding to think too much for the past or the future. Sounds so simple but we just can't seem to succeed in calming our minds. We are used to multitasking and thinking of 3 things at a time while performing another 3 simultaneously.
What happens is that we end up being super overwhelmed and anxious, we can't seem to relax at night and fall asleep and from there it's just the following ripple effect. Sleep deprivation, hormone imbalance, lack of focus, lower productivity, more anxiety, more stress and closing the circle with difficulty to sleep at night...
So does it make sense now why is it so important to use mindfulness tools to try and "tame" our minds? To me it definitely does! I hope I can make a point in the following paragraphs.
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HOW DID I COME ACROSS MINDFULNESS?
The first time I ever heard about mindfulness was during my guided meditation sessions using the "Headspace" app. Not long after that, one of my good friends in Baku - Berit Kauffeldt (a German NT player and an amazingly inspiring and kind person!) told me she got this present for Christmas...it was a book...with mindfulness exercise! She explained that the book was composed of 52 chapters - 1 for each week of the year. You read one and apply it for a week, then proceed to the next one. Being just a week after New Years it made total sense to me to give it a try, plus it sounded exciting!
The book I'm writing about is "How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness" by Jan Chozen Bays, MD. I bought the Kindle version in Amazon.com, but you can chose between that one, paperback and even an audio version. Buy whichever you feel is best for you but I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to start their journey in mindfulness!
WHAT WAS SO INTERESTING ABOUT THE MINDFULNESS BOOK?
Each week in this book you're given an exercise that you're supposed to do throughout the whole week. You should post reminders around your house and also try to journal about your experiences, discoveries and the lessons you've learned.
So I started and it was exciting to notice all the things I didn't even pay attention to most of the time. You are extremely aware of brushing your teeth or hair when you have to do it with your non-dominant hand for an entire week! There's not much to think of, besides the actual movements your hand should make...just like a toddler that starting how to use its hands and is focused only on this one thing!
This was a simple example, but every week the exercise is different and I suggest you go and try it yourself since I can't list and explain all the exercise in the book!
HOW WAS I ABLE TO STAY PERSISTENT WITH THIS FOR SO LONG?
Truth is I wasn't!
I had this period of almost 10 days that I was completely off track with it (and with many other things) but then I came back to doing the exercise. What I did was doing two exercise in the same week to make it up for the time lost.
It's also true that I'm still not great at remembering to do my exercise throughout the day, every day. But even monks in the eastern monasteries need years of practice! What's left for a beginner in those practices during a single week?! Not much except not being too hard on themselves and just keep trying to be mindful!
This is a process, it takes time and it's life changing!
But no one said we learn to be perfect in mindfulness during these 52 weeks. There's the year after, and the year after that and so on. Changes happen of course, we can feel them and appreciate them, but in mindfulness there's no perfection. There is only the understanding and the willingness to try, that matter!
"In Buddhism, the wild elephant represents our uncontrolled, passionate minds. Just as the rampaging elephant is controlled by unregulated passions, we often find ourselves ruled by our desires, fears, and resentments. We think that suffering arises from what others do to us, or what happens to us; as self-perceived victims, we suffer." (The Washington Post)
In Buddha's teachings there's another view - suffering arises internally, in the way our minds respond to events. To avoid that suffering, we can train our minds. The metaphor that The Buddha uses is one of an untrained mind being like a wild elephant - running around scared and confused, creating chaos and disorder. The tamed elephant "rather than rampaging, symbolizes a mind disciplined through meditation, stable, majestic in its power". Training our minds this way, we face difficulties not with anxiety but with spiritual understanding, transforming adversity into advantage, into a possibility to grow and expand. This way the unhappiness and pain we experience, depend much more on our internal responses, than on external conditions.