Mindfulness is the opposite of going in autopilot. Gulping a cup of coffee on the go from a take away container is not the same as sitting down, leaning back against the chair, and sipping your coffee bit by bit from a porcelain cup.
When you apply the same principle to life, that increased awareness of the moment, you start seeing things differently, feeling differently and thinking differently. You will likely realize that you don’t need more to be more content. You just need to get some distance to pay attention to start appreciating what you have. You can take a step back and observe the hustle of life from a quiet corner instead of getting carried away by it, and gain a lot more inner peace and insight as a result, but how? Very simply.
Paying a close level of attention to the little things that surround us becomes very hard when there is a lot of noise and distraction. We are rushing from one errand to another, from one to do list to another. It’s like trying to see the landscape from a bullet train.
Most of us live in an overstimulating environment. Singapore in particular can be quite overwhelmning, and that level of overload does get to you eventually if you don’t consciously make an effort stop going with the motions every once in a while. But others get so addicted to this speed that when they don’t have it, the create it. Filling their agendas, to do lists and plans to do.
Mindfulness practice is about taking some time to be in the here and the now. When you are doing something or when you are doing nothing at all.
It’s putting your attention and focus on it. Here and Now. Not in the past (too much of this causes depression), not in the future (too much of this causes anxiety) and not in your imaginary thoughts (too much of this causes delusion).
You don’t need a lot of time to start a mindfulness practice, just a few minutes away will do.
Unlike what a lot of people believe, meditation is not putting away all thoughts, It’s to focus your attention into one thing for a longer period of time in a way that everything else dissapears, or to simply observing the thoughts come and go without getting involved in them.
Here’s 5 things you can do to make every day more mindful
1- Do not do multitask when you eat.
Focus on your food. Not your phone, or your laptop or even the person you have in front of you for a little while. We eat minimum 3 times a day so there you have 3 possible mindful meditative moments.
I have an ability to go into ‘meditation mode’ effortlesly at certain moments of my day and one of them is when I’m eating.
Sometimes I’m so into my food I stop hearing what My Lovely Boyfriend (now husband the Troglodyte says. So instead of taking me out of my moment, he stares at me and the faces I make, and he says; ‘I can see you are really enjoying that’. Mindful moment for him, mindful moment for me.
The most interesting thing is that digestion starts in the senses.
I always thought the first step of digestion was chewing your food properly but when we smell the food, we look, we touch, we heard anything related to the food experience, our body starts preparing to receive the food. The brain sends signals to the digestive system to start producing the juices that help digestion. So eating mindfully works on body and mind,
(SHORTCUT: I don’t want to read more about your life now, take me to number 2)
If the Tea ceremonies in China and Japan take about 45 min. let’s try to take 30 min. to eat our meals properly. And when this is not possible let’s try to do that in a tea or coffee moment.
2- Acknowledge others
Do you pass by the same people every day and don’t ever say hi? Do you know your neighbors? To answer these questions you probably need to ask yourself first if you pay any attention to the people that surround you.
People watching when you are sitting down in a cafe can provide with a restful quiet mindful moment, but you can also do this on the go. The best thing about this practice is that you could be making somebody’s day without realising it. Just nodding, smiling or saying hi to passer by usually makes the person do the same to you. It can be a bus driver, a neighbor you don’t know. A construction worker, gardener, cleaner. You can even venture to mention something you notice about a receptionist or a clerk about their hairstyle or the clothes they are wearing. We are all fighting our own battle in life and sometimes those random gestures of kindness can have the biggest effect of you are in a dark place.
Here’s 3 occasions of examples where I saw myself doing that. Paying attention to the people around me, noticing the differences and mentioning those to them to give acknowledgement.
- Post office. I went to a new post office and I saw there the young Malay lady that used to serve me in my neighbourhood. She had transferred, she no longer wears braces. I commended about the change of office and the braces too. You should have since her smile (pun intended)
- Gardeners. To decorate my house I used to pick scraps of leaves from the mountain the gardeners make in my condo. I went to them an explained my intentions. They were happy to help me. They are usually those invisible people making everything look tidy, so I took the time to talk to them, ask them about the job, hear them. I’m sure it made their day
- Guards. Every other day I used to pass by the house of the Prime Minister of Singapore on my bike. It’s a shortcut I take to work. There’s always guards at the door. The special Nepalese forces. They have different hats depending on the time of the day and weather. I tap on my imaginary hat as I pass by and give them a thumbs up or something. It must be really boring to stare at the same wall all day every day. They absolutely love it.
It’s incredible how little attention we pay to strangers. I once attended a Yoga Workshop by where we did very interesting exercises that involved us getting very close to strangers. It was about helping students feel the Yoga postures better, and to raise the awareness of the need of support and the role of a supporter. In Yoga and in life.
At some point we were asked to walk around the the room randomly and at the sound of the gong stop and look at what we had in front. For the first three rounds we all looked at objects in the room. Then the teacher asked us to look at the person you have in front instead. Bottom line: we all, sadly, noticed the objects before the people.
Then the teacher made us stare at them for a full 30 seconds. It felt like an eternity. It was intense but it did the job. I never went back to not paying attention to people again.
3- Take 5 min to rest outdoors.
Oh the great outdoors… Whether on your way somewhere or just coming back home to your balcony or your garden, just pause, sit down and pay attention to what you have around you. Close the eyes if possible and listen to the sounds. If not just stare vaguely at a point far away.
When we de-focus we access the subconscious mind and that’s when ideas arise. It’s like magic. When I’m feeling stuck I juts need to leave what bothers me, switch off and then the braincells connect again.
When we are waking up or about to fall asleep is when we have more access to our hidden mind. That’s why power naps work so well to boost creativity. I learnt this from Carlos Pomeda in one his workshops.
If you can’t de-focus easily go the other way around. Hyper focus. You can find time to do this anywhere, for example at the bus stop or at a cross road. Put your phone down and look at the surroundings. Notice the signboards, the plants, the floor, the sky. Look up and down, left and right. Notice everything that you can see from where you stand. How many buses pass by, check where do they go. Notice the houses or buildings you can see from where you stand etc. If you don’t know what they are ask yourself what could they be or imagine them inside.
Detailed observation is a great tool for mindfulness.
You could do this at your work space too or pretty much anywhere except when you are sitting on a plane, but it’s better to do it outdoors, just for a change and a breath of fresh air.
We have talked about noticing food, noticing people, noticing your surroundings and also why not also noticing your own body? Yoga Nidra, also known as Yoga sleep, or awake rest, is also a very powerful way to induce a meditative state with a simple body scan sequence. Meditation apps have made this very popular these days and they are based on the same hyper focus theory.
4- Journal before going to bed.
It’s not writing your diary like when you were a kid. (Dear Diary: Today that cute guy in class looked at me. OMG! I think he likes me! etc). Bullet journaling is about keeping it short. You can even do this on your phone. It’s a way to recap all that happened that way, and to just acknowledge it briefly, without stopping much to think about it. You note it and you let it go. Because we tend to focus on the negative, let’s make an effort to be positive too.
Just write one thing you are thankful for each day, before you go to bed.
A good thought generates a good feeling, a food feeling triggers creation of serotonin hormone, that one makes our brain happy. Recalling the day, looking for the good, choosing the moment, recreating that feeling, will all help you focus on something else that’s not what you need to do tomorrow.
Don’t get too caught up on the facts but stay with the feelings.
This is something great to do with your partner too. Just ask him/her to tell you one good thing that happened today before going to bed.
I use the Thoughts and Reflections Journey from Typo that has one page for day with 3 sections,
5- Observe nature.
Nature is amazing, really. We should never stop to amaze ourselves at the wonders of the natural world. The shape of a flower, the variety of plants that exists, the shapes of leaves, how tall trees can be, how incredible it is that water and air magically turn in to matter. Think of the space they take around you and how significant plants at a macro level, but then look at them at a micro level and you can rest your mind every fold every vein every shape that nature takes.
I love the lush vegetation in Singapore, I miss it a lot. The jungle is just amazing and intricate enough to keep your eyes entertained in every detail and switch off from the rest. Look at the colours the shapes the size of the vegetation around you and you got yourself an easy and accesible mindful moment. Looking at how the super tall trees move with the winds of a storm is one of the first most vivid memories I have of moving to Singapore.
If you don’t have anything like that around… buy yourself a plant. They are therapeutic 😉 thing and stick to it for a while.
Like the muscles in the body, the brain requires training to focus and de-focus. in the same way that you can’t lift a 10Kg dumbbell with one arm on the first day at the gym, training the mind for mindfulness happens with practice. I invite you to try one of these 5 things today. Just one. Every journey always started with one single step
Until the next time! Xx