Over and over again mindfulness has been proven to both spiritually and scientifically calm the mind, ground the body, and increase overall well-being and good health.
Yet, when it comes to practicing mindfulness, many of us quickly get bored, distracted or frustrated. And eventually, mindfulness is a concept that rapidly gets shoved somewhere on our mental “to do” list.
How is it possible for 21st-century people who DON’T live in monasteries to incorporate mindfulness practices into their lives? Is mindfulness even compatible with our busy and hectic lifestyles?
Permanent Calmness … Is It Possible?
The notion of permanent calmness is irresistible to us humans. In fact, I was originally drawn to mindfulness with this promise of living in a sort of daily “utopia.”
However, I quickly learned that mindfulness isn’t about creating permanent calmness in our environments, but is instead about accessing the field of infinite calmness within us.
The reality is that our environments, thoughts, and even emotions can’t be controlled because they all arise spontaneously. Have you ever sat down to genuinely question where your thoughts and subsequent feelings come from? If you have, you would have discovered that thoughts appear out of nothing in the mind, and just as quickly disappear into nothing. Did you make that thought arise? Did you think, “I will now think about this, then this, then this …”? Even if you do decide to think a certain way (like positive thoughts), did you control where that desire to think positively came from? Did you control the circumstances that led to this desire, or the people you met? No. Of course not!
To truly understand that our thoughts and feelings are impersonal (nothing to do with us) is a divinely shocking revelation. For me to discover that I was not in control of my thoughts and feelings was and still IS liberating.
So … if thoughts and feelings are completely impersonal in nature (as in, we don’t own them), then how can they be “ours”?
Mindfulness reveals to us that the suffering we experience in life occurs when we claim these thoughts and feelings to be our own. In other words, we feel anxiety, depression, guilt and anger when we identify with thoughts as being “ours” and not fluctuations of the mind.
Is this hard to understand? I know it may be difficult, and even unbelievable to process, but I’m not asking you to believe anything I say. You can experience it for yourself. All you have to do is sit down for a few minutes, allow yourself to tune into the never-ending stream of thoughts in your mind, and explore where they come from. Ask yourself, “where does this thought come from?” It’s so hard for us to extract ourselves from the tangle of our thoughts and feelings because we have been taught since birth to identify with them. So what I write may sound confusing — but that is inevitably the product of believing something for so long! Like a fish that doesn’t know it’s swimming in the ocean, our conditioning causes us to adopt a myopic perception of life and being.
To recognize that the fleeting nature of thoughts and feelings really have nothing to do with “us” opens a rare door. This door helps us to discover that which never changes within us: the field of calmness, or silence, that is the Soul.
This field of calmness, or silence, exists behind our thoughts, and it pre-dated our current sense of self. We were born with this field of calmness before any concepts of “me” and “I” was ingrained into us, and we carry this calmness with us everywhere and in every moment.
8 Simple Mindfulness Practices
The hands-down best way to reconnect with this field of calmness within you, also known as the “witnesser,” is through incorporating mindfulness practices into your life.
Mindfulness practices will only be effective if they are taken seriously. To put it bluntly, you must practice like your ass is on fire! There has to be passion, wilfulness and dedication directed towards mindfulness, otherwise you’ll quickly lose interest. Lukewarm half-assed practice only leads to disappointment.
Another vital thing to be aware of is that mindfulness isn’t about achieving some special state, or perfect utopia. As I already pointed out; that just doesn’t exist. Instead, mindfulness is simply about becoming aware of whatever is happening right now, whether that be a physical sensation, a sound, a thought, a smell, an emotion, etc.
Mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with allowing things to be exactly what they are in the moment, whether that be a feeling of loneliness, a sensation of dread in your stomach, a leaky pipe dripping, a dog barking, the need to shout, the need to cry, the need to laugh, the craving for food, and so on.
I love mindfulness. And I hope you get a lot out of these practices:
1. Do everything slowly
Consciously slow down. Walk slowly, drink slowly, sit slowly, breathe slowly, talk slowly, move your body slowly — practice slowing down your natural tendency to rush everything.
The immediate reaction to this practice is usually, “I can’t do that! I have deadlines to meet, etc. etc.” But when you learn to go slowly, you will recognize how many things you cram into your days that you don’t actually need to do. As a result, you will learn to focus solely on what you need to do and become more efficient.
You can also choose one action to do slowly, like walking or breathing. Allow yourself to fully connect with the movements of slowness and how difficult it is at first for you to adapt to such a pace. Soon, with practice, movement itself will become a trigger to become mindful and present.
2. Witness your breath
How many times have you tried to breathe slowly, only to find yourself getting lightheaded or panicky?
I know that when I’m feeling stressed, the worst thing for me to do is to try and control my breathing. Instead of feeling relaxed, I feel more edgy and suffocated.
The better alternative to controlling your breath is to witness it. In order to witness your breath, you must consciously stop yourself in the present moment and simply observe what your breathing is doing.
For example, if you’re breathing shallowly from your upper chest, simply witness and allow that breathing to happen. Soon, the very act of witnessing and allowing will calm you down, giving you the space to deepen your breathing if you wish. Perhaps your breath might be rapid and jagged, or neutral and deep — allow it.
3. Feel your inner body
This technique was inspired by Eckhart Tolle in his book “A New Earth” where he mentions the subtle energy inside us which he calls the “inner body.”
In order to feel your inner body, simply draw attention to one area of your body, such as your hand, foot, chest or head. Allow yourself to feel the life force energy in one particular area. For example, let your attention settle fully on your hand. What does the inner body feel like there? Is it heavy, tingly, warm, buzzing?
Eventually, you can draw awareness to other areas of your body until you can fully feel the inner body. With practice, you will be able to become aware of the inner body even while talking with others. This mindfulness practice also allows you to loosen your identification with your body, making it a good awakening tool.
4. Let eating become a symphony of flavors and textures
Make a habit of using food as a mindfulness anchor. Generally, whenever we eat we are doing something ELSE as well. For example, most of us eat in front of the TV, eat while using our phones, eat while talking, eat while reading the newspaper, eat while thinking about something … etc. We are rarely fully present with our food.
Most of us have forgotten or unlearned how to simply BE with our food. Food is made to enjoy and nourish the body, yet most of us mindlessly shovel it down reducing it to a purely practical function.
Look forward to eating as an intimately sensory experience. Let the flavors, textures, scents and temperature of your food enrapture your taste buds. When distractions arise (as they inevitably will), just draw your focus and intent back upon experiencing your food. I wrote an article about this topic a while ago called “We eat, but we do not taste.”
5. Dedicate one day a week to becoming mindful of each of your five senses
For example, on Monday you could pay attention to sound, on Tuesday; touch, on Wednesday; sight, on Thursday; smell, on Friday; taste — and put that on repeat.
You could even try incorporating other senses such as intuition or instinct, by paying attention to the physical sensations you get in certain places, situations and around other people.
On Monday, for instance, you could train yourself to become alert to physical sensations such as when you touch something, brush against someone, move your body, type on your computer, etc.
Eventually, you will begin to become anchored firmly into the present moment through all of your senses.
6. Spend more time in nature each day
If you live in a city, try to spend more time outdoors. Living indoors all day tends to restrict the mind immensely. By sitting outside, you open your mind to experiencing more expansion. This is one of the most simple mindfulness practices that involves little effort. All you have to do is commit to sitting and watching whatever comes into your field of vision for at least half an hour.
7. Do a walking meditation
One of my favorite mindfulness practices is the walking meditation. The cool thing about this practice is that you can incorporate it into your daily exercise regime.
Walking meditation is very simple and extremely grounding. All it involves is becoming aware of the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.
I like to feel the rhythm of my feet, and what it feels like to walk in different shoes such as sneakers, flip-flops, sandals — as well as the texture of the earth, whether it is soft, gravelly, slippery or hard.
To practice walking meditation, allow your focus to rest in the movements of your feet. Literally, “put yourself in the shoes” of your feet and purely experience what they are experiencing.
Remember, no sensation has to be “better” or “worse” than another. The purpose of mindfulness is to not only live in the moment, but to also become aware of the thoughts that arise in your mind and let them go.
8. Gratitude prayer
Saying a prayer of thanks for what you have every day is one of the most transformative mindfulness practices out there.
Gratitude can only ever exist in the present moment, thus, it is the perfect mindfulness tool. When we are lost in our thoughts, it’s so easy for us to take what we have for granted and constantly seek for more.
Gratitude grounds us in the here and now. Whether you believe in God, Life, Spirit, science — it doesn’t matter —verbalise your thanks either silently or out loud, and you will become more present-minded. In fact, the very act of gratitude requires us to become aware of all the good we have right now.
Here’s a sample gratitude prayer,
Thank you God/Life/Spirit for all that I have in this eternal present moment. I am so grateful and blessed. Amen.
Calmness and Peace are already existing Now as your true nature. Yet we lose touch with this experience when we take thoughts and feelings personally, believing them to mean something about us.
Thoughts and feelings never objectively mean anything about you: they simply arise and fall, come and go. Some thoughts come more than others, and others less so. But we don’t control any thought or feeling, therefore how can they really define us or even be “ours”?
Mindfulness is the practice of returning back to reality again. I hope these eight mindfulness practices can revolutionize the way you live life — or more correctly, how life lives you.