Mindfulness is a word of our times but how many people know what it means? And even fewer would know how to practise it. So what exactly is it?
I try to use mindfulness when I can, in a very simple form – literally, being in the present – and that has the effect of excluding painful memories from the past, preventing me from getting anxious over “what ifs” and worrying about things in the future that I have no control over.
I see it as emotional armour.
Encouragingly, there’s mounting evidence on its effectiveness in combating anxiety and depression, and it has the advantage of being easy to do and makes you kinder and more compassionate towards yourself.
Most who practise mindfulness think of it as a kind of meditation, and Ruby Wax has written extensively about it in her book Sane New World: Taming the Mind. It seems to work best when you come up with your own formula. For instance, sit and empty your mind for 20 minutes or so, three or four times a week.
Each day do a mini session of three minutes, closing your eyes and concentrating solely on your breathing. This is guaranteed to be calming, and once tried can become addictive and difficult to go without.
One of the pillars of my own mindfulness is going outdoors. Wonderful things can happen when you leave the confines of your home.
At least once a day, rain or shine, I go out into the open and become aware of what’s around me, particularly nature. Being in the present is key. Looking at trees, listening to birdsong, pausing over flowers, concentrating on a lovely view, a stunning sunset, the smell of cut grass.
I’m convinced this is a stressbuster and sleep promoter. I’m pretty sure it also helps me manage my workload and deal with problems. It reinforces my sense of wellbeing and helps to retain a more balanced, calm approach to life.
The bonus is, not only does the kindness and compassion extend to oneself, it extends to others, and you may find friendships more rewarding and you listen more attentively and sympathise more.
Mindfulness based in cognitive therapy is an especially useful tool because it defines problems and offers solutions. It shows the way to rethink a problem and deal with it by changing your mindset, rather than trying to change the problem.