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What is Mindfulness?
by Stephen Williamson

This is an extract from the book How to Relax. Find out more.

Mindfulness is a process of paying attention to the ‘now’. So much time is spent remembering the past or looking forward to some future event.

One of the easiest ways of practising mindfulness is through walking. If possible do this in the countryside or in a park if you live in the city. As you walk pay attention to your breathing. Then look at the sky or the trees that you pass. Notice any physical sensations - the wind on your face, the temperature, the intensity of the colours that you see.

The idea of this is to pull yourself away from the internal dialogue - the constant chatter of the mind that mulls over events in your life, passes judgements on those around you, creates expectations of future events. The internal dialogue stops you noticing what is going on around you. You are not trying to stop the dialogue by force of will but by simply and gently taking your attention away from it.

The benefits of Mindfulness are explained by Andrew Weiss in his book Beginning Mindfulness are:

‘Mindfulness allows us to experience the delight of touching life deeply and authentically. It gives us a way through suffering to joy. It encourages us to do all of this at every moment in our daily lives.’

Mindfulness also means becoming a witness of our own lives. If you are feeling stressful or anxious, step back and observe the stress or anxiety as if it was a program that you are watching on television. By becoming the observer or the witness, you will find that the stress and anxiety will start to diminish. It may also help to then place your attention on your breathing to make sure that your are breathing deeply and at a slow place.

Now is the only Time that is important. How often do we find ourselves worrying about the future? Anxiety about the future takes up a significant portion of our thoughts. Worrying about the future doesn’t help in any way. If you always live in the past or future you will never be able to relax. To be in a state of relaxation means living in the present moment.

Here is what Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh says about mindfulness in his book ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes

 

Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks. There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing. Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrub pads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards. I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dish washing machine is going just a little too far!

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”

 

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