Being mindful and why is it important?
Most of us race through life on automatic pilot, oblivious of the present. Asleep. We are rarely truly aware of the present moment. Mindless. In contrast, being mindful is a mental state of awareness and openness that helps people live more consciously by opening the senses and refocusing attention on the here and now. We can use being mindful to ‘wake up’, connect with ourselves and appreciate the fullness of each moment of life. The practice of ‘mindfulness’ reduces stress hormones and leaves the brain open to new experiences. It’s a crucial element of happiness.
Until recently in the western world you could learn about mindfulness only through following ancient Eastern practices like meditation, or tai chi or philosophical or spiritual pathways like Buddhism, Taoism or Zen. But in the last thirty years, mindfulness practices have become part and parcel of Western mainstream psychology.
Dr. Russ Harris is a leading practitioner of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Australia. ACT is one of a number of cognitive behavioural therapies that place a major emphasis on developing mindfulness skills. Dr. Russ has developed a series of exercises, derived from ACT, that develop three fundamental mindfulness skills:
1) Connection. Connecting with your here and now experience, engaging fully through all five senses (even if it seems mundane, boring or unpleasant).
Exercise: Savouring the Sultana.
To appreciate what you take for granted, take five minutes to eat just one sultana. Look at the sultana as if you’ve never seen one before. Study it, squeeze it gently, bring it to your nose and savour the scent, bring it to your ear and listen to the sound it makes as you roll it in your fingers. Touch it with your tongue. Explore the taste and texture as you put it in your mouth. It is common for thoughts and ideas to enter the mind as you do this; don’t worry, this is normal, just go back to concentrating on the sultana. Mindfulness takes time to learn fully.
2) Defusion. Seeing thoughts for what they are-nothing more or less than sounds, words, stories, pictures, bits of language passing through our heads-and letting them come and go without getting caught up with them.
Exercise: Leaves on a stream.
Find a comfortable position and close your eyes. Imagine a flowing stream with leaves floating down it. As thoughts appear place them on the leaves and let them float past. Sometimes your mind will hook onto an interesting thought and pull you out of your exercise. That’s normal, just gently acknowledge this has happened, unhook yourself and start the exercise again. Do this once or twice a day for 3-5 minutes.
3) Expansion. Opening up and making room for your emotions, allowing them to freely flow through you without a struggle, whether they are pleasant or painful.
Exercise: Observe, Breathe, Allow.
When faced with a strong emotion try following the following steps to expansion-
1) Observe: you observe the feeling in much the same way as you observed the sultana. Notice where it is in your body, the shape, size depth and temperature.
2) Breathe: you ‘breathe into’ the feeling. It’s as if your breath flows into and around that feeling.
3) Allow: you allow the feeling to be there. You don’t have to like it or want it, you just have to allow it.
To assist in being mindful we also recommend you read these related topics:
For more information on Mindfulness see ‘Eight Steps to Happiness: the Science of Getting Happy and How It Can Work for You’ by Dr. Anthony M. Grant & Alison Leigh.
Excerpt from ‘Eight Steps to Happiness: the Science of Getting Happy and How It can Work for You’ by Dr. Anthony M. Grant & Alison Leigh.