Be Mindful, Be Aware, Be Happy
When was the last time you took a moment to do nothing?
No texting. No creeping randoms on Facebook. No situps. No watching TV. No reading.
I mean absolutely nothing.
That was how Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk started (video below). And the entire concept of mindfullness really set in.
We live in a world today where we are constantly distracted. Overtly stressed. Our minds are constantly stimulated. Our eyes are always glued to devices, our fingers to keyboards, and our butts to chairs.
Studies show that, on average, our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time.
This means that we spend half of our lives completely unaware of our surroundings, our thoughts, and our emotions.
This, my friends, is no way to live life.
We are slowly, but surely becoming less mindful and more stressed and this is taking a toll on our health.
But here’s what we can do about it…
First, I think it’s important to understand what exactly mindfulness is and how it can effect us.
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
Mindfulness – an essential component of Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions – is simply the state of being aware.
Aware of our surroundings. Aware of our food. Aware of our blessings and misfortunes. Aware of our body and our mind.
Aware of the present moment.
Unfortunately, we are constantly held up by the past or worried about the future that we rarely take a moment to appreciate the present.
To appreciate the subtle little details that are intricately etched into our ever-changing surroundings. To appreciate the emotions that overcome us at times we least expect it. To appreciate the little things in life many often overlook.
It appears as though we’re finding less and less time to be mindful. Our world is moving at speeds once unimaginable. Technology is booming and our patience is dwindling. Everything today is about speed and convenience.
It seems that we just don’t mind rushing through life.
But here’s the question we need to ask ourselves:
How does being less mindful affect us? How does it affect our health?
The first obvious point of interest is stress.
We are more stressed today then we ever were. In fact, stress levels in the workplace are rising with 60% of workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress. On top of that, 75% of adults say they’ve experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year [source].
The truth is, stress can have major implications on our health. It compromises our ability to think, to make (good) decisions, to solve problems, to be creative, to sleep, and to concentrate. Companies around the world are losing big bucks due to stress-related employee absenteesim.
Apart from stress, constant mind wandering (or being lost in thought) is apparently a direct cause of unhappiness as we are slowly losing appreciation for the little things that make life so beautiful.
Practicing mindfulness is essential.
Practicing mindfulness provides a number of health benefits: improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function [source].
It can also help us minimize stress, be more focused, think more clearly and creatively, sleep more peacefully, and (hopefully) even keep our jobs.
Here is a more detailed list of benefits.
No matter what the case may be in your life, I think it’s important that we all find ways of becoming more mindful of who we are, of our surroundings, of our food, of our interactions with people, and of life itself.
Here are some exercises we can do…
Do nothing for 10 minutes
Note: this exercise was inspired by Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert
Every single day, find 10 minutes to do nothing.
Find a quiet place. Turn off and put away your electronic devices. Eliminate anything from your immediate environment that can be a potential distraction.
Now sit on the ground and do nothing.
Take deep breaths.
Focus on your thoughts. Focus on your emotions.
At first, your mind may be racing, but eventually you will learn how to control your thoughts and emotions. You’ll begin to realize what they mean.
This a very simple and powerful form of meditation.
If you’re struggling to find 10 minutes to do this each day (shame on you!), use this little website throughout the day (safe for work) and take two short minutes to do nothing.
Taste the tangerine
Note: This exercise was delivered in a workshop to a group of inspiring to-be teachers. The exercise is meant to be done orally, but I’ll do my best to explain it with my keyboard.
Here’s what I want you to do.
When you have a moment, I want you to close your eyes.
(Keep them open until you finish reading this!)
With your eyes closed, I want you to stretch out your hand in front of you and open up your palm. I’m going to place something in your hand.
It’s a little gift.
Something I want you to have. Think about what it could be for a second.
It’s something you can eat. Something delicious.
I’m going to give you a piece of my tangerine.
There, it’s in your hand.
But don’t eat it yet. I want you to feel it. Feel its texture. Feel the little bumps and bruises around it. Feel its moon-like shape.
Now open your eyes. Look at the piece of tangerine that’s in your hand. Observe its colour. Observe the patterns the veins make around it. Look at it closely.
Now put it in your mouth.
Slowly bite into it and feel the tangerine juice splashing around in your mouth. Notice how your taste buds react. How your tongue feels. Chew on it slowly.
As you swallow that tangerine piece, notice the cooling sensation in your throat. Notice the taste slowly fading. The after taste dwelling.
If you followed the steps, you probably noticed how much detail your senses picked up in this process. The smell. The texture. The look and feel of the tangerine.
These are all details we lose appreciation for when we rush through life.
Next time you have a meal, I want you to really take your time with it. Look at the food before you put it in your mouth and then savor it. Feel the texture. Take in the taste and the aromas. Enjoy it like it’s meant to be enjoyed.
Practice active listening
When was the last time you truly listened to what someone was saying?
When we listen, often what we’re really doing subcontiously is waiting to hear for something we can relate to. We’re just picking up on the big pieces of the story, not the little details. We’re waiting for a moment where we can throw our two cents in and essentially take over the conversation.
It’s not that we’re trying to be rude on purpose. It just happens.
But when we do this, we miss out on the essence of what the person is saying. We miss the little details. We miss the emotion and subtle changes in tone that are associated with each word.
We miss on the important stuff.
We listen, but we don’t hear.
Active listening is actually hearing what the person is saying. It is the idea of fully immersing yourself in the conversation. Paying attention to every single detail that the person is telling you. Paying attention to the tone and emotion behind the words.
So next time you’re talking to someone, put away your phone, stop looking for queues to jump in, and really hear what the person is trying to tell you.
Watch this video
I recently watched a TED talk done by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe.
In the video, Andy describes the transformative power of refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment.
It’s definitely worth the…well, 10 minutes.
Note: if the video doesn’t appear, just refresh the page and it will show up.
My favorite part of the video is Andy’s explanation of how the 10 minutes of nothing changed his life:
“It gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the present moment. By that, I mean not being lost in thought. Not being distracted. Not being overwhelmed by difficult emotions. But instead learning how to be in the here and now. How to be mindful. How to be present. I think the present moment is so underrated. Sounds so ordinary. And yet we spend so little time in the present moment that it’s anything but ordinary.” – Andy Puddicombe
The more fast-paced, developed and technologically-saturated our world becomes, the more I think it’s important we find a bit of time to get a way from it all.
The more important it is to be mindful of our surroundings.
We only live once guys. There’s no need to rush through the beauty.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Is mindfulness a priority? If so, how do you find time for it? Is 10 minutes too much to spare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.