As the New Year rolls in, thoughts turn toward the chance for a fresh start. The resolutions perpetually include intentions for weight loss, being kinder or better self-care. Perhaps the need for quiet time, especially, during the winter months, starts to nag at the consciousness. The term mindfulness is becoming popular. The word is not part of the lexicon and tricky (pardon the pun) to wrap the mind around. Mindfulness is active attention on the moment without judgement if good or bad. Sounds nice. An internet query returns links to books, articles and seminars. There are an awful lot of words to read. If it takes more than a paragraph to explain, what is a busy wannabe to do? Mindfulness is conscious awareness of the mind, body, and spirit as it is in the present.
Mindfulness is a meditative practice from the Vipassana tradition of Insight Meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, made it an achievable experience. He and his staff pioneered a way for the mind and body of an overwhelmed, overworked ordinary person to chill out with kindness towards the self. The state of mind or health does not matter. The outcome is a balanced way to approach daily activities and conditions with awareness of internal and external influences.
A home based practice can begin at any moment. In the Vipassana tradition, there is no moment to start, no day, hour or time. If symbolism matters, look out the window and say now. Turn inward and begin your practice of mindfulness. No mantra, no bell, begin and focus on actions.
It is breakfast time and the ritual begins with a simple meal. Mindfulness is attention on what you think, say and do in the moment. It might be easier only to do at first. Concentrate on using the non-dominant hand and balancing activity in both hands. If right handed, use the left for opening the cupboard and taking out the bowl. Prepare toast and tea as well. Open the kettle lid, fill with water, start the burner and take out tea with the left hand using the right for support. In other words, reverse hand movements. Watch how the body tries to switch hands. See the hands switch and follow the normal pattern of movement. Consciously shift hands.
There may be some discomfort and fumbling as a simple meal is prepared. Open the cereal box, pour and close with attention. Listen to the cereal shift in the wax paper and fill the bowl. Add fresh fruit if that is the habit. Add the milk or yogurt. Take out a plate and butter knife. Two slices of bread from the bag. How hard this is! How the body is twisting away. Here is mindfulness. Feel the twist, feel the discomfort, focus on the action and guide the hands with gentle intention. Say it aloud if it helps. Focus, focus on this action at this moment. Place the bread in the toaster and cook it.
The tea water is boiling. Brew with loose leaf or the tea bag. Pour with the other hand. Constantly shift the attention as it shifts to the habit of the other way. See something drop or spill. The hands are learning something new; give them a chance to understand. Take your time. When the toast pops, butter with the left hand, spread the jam with the right. Start to shift giving each hand the same movement. It is not a simple task.
Sit and eat quietly. Watch how complex it is to scoop cereal onto the spoon and lift to the mouth with the other hand. Pay attention to chewing on both sides fully. Most people tend to bite down and grind on one side as well. A chance for mindful eating. Peel an orange or banana with the non-dominant hand. Continue this practice every morning until it becomes common.
Mindfulness will often say to focus on the flavors. One thing at a time. By moving out of the normal rhythm of the morning ritual of breakfast, the mind starts to focus on actions. Feel the discomfort in the body and mind. Let it be uncomfortable. Focus and be in that space. See what is happening, feel what is happening, hear the thoughts and watch where they go. Bring the thoughts into the hands, into the fingers holding the spoon, the cup or the toast. Feel the bread warm in the fingers.
This activity will be harder with people watching or knowing what is happening. A conversation will cause over analyzing and get the mind rolling in judgement. Keep the practice to yourself. If possible, try other simple activities such as brushing the teeth or washing dishes with the non-dominant hand. The body knows what you want and does it in a specific way with little variation. Stop the habitual action and put it in the other hand, on the other side of the body and the mind as well. The deliberate action of watching the movements and performing them with attentive care is mindfulness in motion. The mind may chatter away with thoughts and judgement. The hands may drop and slip things. Pick them up continuously with the non-dominant hand. Throughout the day, find other ways to do things in an opposite manner with attention on the change. Be mindful in movement and be safe. Namaste
Sources for Mindfulness
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society – University of Massachusetts Worcester Campus
Stress Reduction Program
Insight Meditation Society – Barre, Massachusetts
Plum Village – Loubès-Bernac, France
This article is available in Wisdom Magazine March Edition 2016.