“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose,
in the present moment, and
non-judgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Just like exercising any muscle in our body, mindfulness takes practice. Our world tends to be outer oriented and guided by our neo cortex which is connected to our eyes (our outer vision), our thinking and language. More than ever, we are living in a world of distractions where we are visually engaged in events all around the world through our various devices, 24/7, anywhere. One of the effects of our increasingly digitalised lifestyle is that it has shortened our attention span and ungrounded us.
It takes consistent practice to slow down, to be still and turn our attention inwards. To be with whatever is going on inside of us. For some people doing so can trigger anxiety because the mind starts to download all the information it has been gathering through the day, week, month… This can feel a a little like a mind detox. Over time, making slowing down and turning inwards a regular practice allows us to tune into that small, quiet voice within and in doing so, our body starts to slow down and feel more relaxed. You may have come across that popular saying – “Where the mind goes, the energy flows.”
For many of us that small, quiet voice within may not be a voice, it may be a feeling, a vision, a body sensation, a flash, a sense perception. The term, Mindfulness meditation has been a bit of a catchphrase used by various health practitioners. People are cottoning on to some of the issues that arise from having full or busy minds and being mindful or attentive of what they’re actually thinking.
Mindfulness is just another word for practicing BHN -Being Here Now. Being with What Is, with ourselves, rather than outside of present to – with What Was or What is Yet To Be. As mentioned, this can initially feel strange and even uncomfortable, but with practice it allows us to develop a witness consciousness that can both experience and observe what we’re experiencing at the same time.
When we turn inwards we may inevitably bump up against thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable or even painful. When we are observing BHN with our thoughts and feelings, without assessing them as good or bad, right or wrong, we start to develop a witness consciousness. This helps us be a little less re-active to what is going on around us. It strengthens our capacity to be more present and more compassionate with all parts of ourselves, the parts we like as well as the parts we find challenging. It is simply ‘what is.’ It’s a kind of a meditators ‘whatever’ without the sassy attitude.
Developing a witness consciousness enables us to start to step back and become less reactive, less judgemental and more self aware, more compassionate.The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain develops from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent observation of our realities.
The Snow Globe Mind
When we first start to make time and space to be still and be quiet we may find ourselves swimming in a miasma of thoughts, feelings and sensations. This may feel more like ‘mind-fullness’- confusing, overwhelming and exhausting rather than calming and mindful. Think of a snow globe that has been vigorously shaken. When we stop the shaking, there is initially a lot of stuff still floating around, until it slowly sinks back down to the bottom and the globe eventually becomes clear. That’s the intention behind stopping in mindfulness practice. Practicing stillness and presence gradually opens us to the insight and clarity that can emerge from having a quieter mind.
Showing Up to Your Life
To be present and opening to BHN is part of our deepening wisdom and self acceptance of the natural process of life unfolding. This is a holistic process of living a life with all the lights switched on and embracing the diversity and richness of our experiences, the joy and ecstasy as well as our pain and suffering. Radical responsibility is part of showing up to whatever life throws our way and connecting to the strength of a grounded, inner presence. In our relationships, BHN calls us to stay present with another, which includes staying in our hearts, not going too quickly into our heads, into analysis or judgment.
Be Here Now Exercise – Inside/Outside Presence
The first step in any mindfulness practice is to take the first step, no matter how small it may be and to repeat it consistently. So try this simple practice in Being Here Now.
- Close your eyes, take a breath and notice what is going on inside of your body right now. What feelings and sensations are there? What is most strongly in your awareness right now? Try to simply observe it rather than interpret it or place a value on it. For example, rather than saying to yourself : “My stomach feels fluttery, that’s because I’m an anxious person, I wish my stomach would just calm down,” simply observe the fluttery-ness. Be curious about it. Does it stay in one spot? Does it move around? Is it fast? Slow? Allow the experience to simply be there with you observing it.
- Now take a couple more long, slow breaths and imagine sinking into yourself just a little further.
- When you sink into yourself what else do you notice? So, with the stomach example: Is it still fluttery? Does it change to something else? Does it become better, worse or the same? Again, go slowly, take your time, be curious and keep open.
- With gentle presence, speak internally to your inner experience. Simply say: “I see you, I notice you are there.” Bring compassion to your attention as you observe your inner body sensations. Repeat this a couple of times and notice the response in your body.
- Slowly open your eyes. Keep your gaze soft and unfocused, whilst simultaneously holding onto your inner experience of feelings or body sensations.
- This is a mindfulness practice of outward/inward engagement, outward/inward presence. Staying connected to what is going on on the inside while keeping a soft visual awareness of the outside.
Developing a witness consciousness enables us to intentionally bring our focus back to where we want it, whether it’s to our breath, to feelings in our heart, to an inner prayer or simply to quieten our mind. The task is to do so with compassion.
Gently choosing what we will bring our attention to, strengthens the inner muscles of our intentionality and calms our nervous system. Studies have shown that the amygdala, known as our brain’s “fight or flight” centre and the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, decreases in brain cell volume after mindfulness practice.
I offer soul-life coaching sessions on Be Here Now practices for individuals and couples. If you enjoyed this article please drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.