So how do we become more mindful? A friend of mine was trying very hard to “be more mindful” and decide to start a mediative practice each night. He mentioned that it was stressful, trying to get into the habit of practicing mindfulness; “I should do it every night after dinner”, “I must remember to sit still and be more mindful”, “The only way for me to get this happening is to schedule it into my diary”- you get the picture, it was becoming a chore – to learn how to “just be” !
Like many things in life, there’s many ways to do many things. What worked for me, over the years of trying to practice mindfulness, was to start simply. When I was doing mundane things like hanging out the washing, I would take off my shoes and stand barefoot on the grass while pegging out the clothes. I focused on the feel of the grass between my toes, whether the grass was wet or dry, hot or cold. If I was brushing my teeth, I would home in on the feel of the bristles rubbing on my teeth and gums. While cooking dinner I would look at the boiling pasta, I would try and focus on the bubbling water. Many times, my efforts were interrupted though; an ant would run across my bare feet and then twenty more would join it and I’d jump around shaking them off. The phone would ring, and I’d leap up to jump to answer it just in case it was an important call. So, it’s Ok for your practice to not be perfect.
Working on my mindful practice over the years – and I’m still a big work in progress, I’ve started using mindfulness apps to help strengthen my skill. I often just sit and take five slow breaths, not always very deep, just natural breaths. I do this while sitting at a red traffic light, while standing in a que or when something hasn’t worked out the way I’d planned it. As I breath out, if something’s worrying me, I might exhale and say silently “let it go” or “breathe”. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who I’ve mentioned in an earlier article has said that “whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again”. I’ve found his advice to be very helpful.
The use of a word or “mantra” can sometimes increase our focus during a mindful practice. Sometimes my mindfulness practice resembles a toddler chasing a balloon – it’s all over the place. I use to get really annoyed at myself and think that I’d wasted my time. However, the more I’ve learnt, the better I am at letting this go. If your beginning a mindful practice my advice would be start slow and steady, be kind to yourself and remember it’s not a competition. Some practices I do are great, I think, yep, nailed it! Others, not so much, but I’m now fine with that – there’s always next time.