When is the last time you really, really enjoyed something just for the sake of doing it? Not because you had to. Not because you got paid to. Not because there was no one else to do it. But because you really, really enjoyed it. Can you recall what the event or situation was? How did it feel not worrying about the outcome?
In my big adult life, I find that there are not many opportunities to participate in activities just because I want to. I have to live and eat. Both of these things require money. Spending time in activities that help me make money take up most of my time. That is the reality for me and most other adults. The long-term effect of this cycle, all work and no play, can be stress. The more stress compounds, the more exhausted we can start to feel. We start to get the sense that our lives lack purpose or meaning other than to strive to survive. Before we know it, unhappy has showed up at our door. Once unhappiness sets in, it becomes difficult to do anything about it because we are too tired, stressed, and exhausted. We may see others, and it appears they are having the time of their lives. Then we start to think, "It must be me then. There must be something wrong with me."
The more these thoughts escalate, the more we may begin to feel lost, empty, disappointed with ourselves, disappointed with other people, or disappointed with the world in general. Life begins to lose its color and we don't seem to know how to bounce back. Continuing on this spiral could lead to clinical depression.
The sort of unhappiness I am describing here touches us all from time to time. Despite what social media and reality TV tries to convince us, no matter the person, no matter the amount of money he or she may have, no one is happy all the time. That is just a fact of life. Efforts to try and dispute this or try to "switch off" discomforting thoughts may work temporarily but it is not a permanent solution. Before long, our attention will be hijacked by whatever it is that is troubling us. Another fact of life; it is so difficult to prevent our minds from repeatedly dragging us back to the very places from which we want to escape. What if I told you that there are a set of skills that once you acquire them, you will have a radically different way of working with your own mind? The answer is mindfulness.
What exactly is mindfulness?
According to Psychology Today, "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad." Put another way, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. Using mindfulness skills will help give us back control of our attention so that we can fully experience the world without that harsh critic that so often follows us around. Instituting a daily practice of mindfulness helps reduce the tendency to brood and worry about every little thing. Instead, mindfulness helps us to wake up to the small beauties and pleasures of the world. We further find that there is an increase in our compassion and how we respond to other people and events.
How to do it?
Pay attention. This is the first step in mindfulness practice. Paying attention. Take a moment to find somewhere to sit quietly where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and just breathe. What sounds do you hear? What scents do you pick up on? What temperature is the air as it passes through your nostrils down into your lungs? What does it feel like as the air passes in and out of your body? This focus on the present moment is mindfulness. Of course, first starting out, you will have thoughts enter your mind.
Am I doing this right?
This feels silly.
Oh, did I turn off the oven?
Don't forget you have to pick up the clothes from the dry cleaners.
I'm hungry. I wonder what I should eat for dinner?
Man, I messed up I'm supposed to be focusing on my breaths.
No matter the thought that enters, don't judge it or yourself. Notice it; then return to your breathing and noticing the sensations of the moment. Practicing in this way does not have to become some long-drawn-out process. You can practice mindfulness in as little as three minutes per day to get you started. But there are other ways too.
Mindfully Doing Chores
As discussed in the outset, there aren't many opportunities in my adult life to just do things just because. I have to get things done. As adults, we have to get really creative about restoring balance, wellness, and joy into our lives while also getting stuff done. Now that I have shared a little bit about mindfulness with you, I'd like to introduce another mindfulness strategy I picked up in a recent mindfulness training session. I hope it proves as useful to you as it did to me and bring a nice change of pace to your life.
Let's mindfully wash dishes together.
Instructions: Do the activity for five or 10 minutes without distraction or multi-tasking—so have Alexa turn off the music and see what it is like to focus, slow down and notice every little detail that you can. Allow yourself to experience this chore or activity as if it were the very first time you have ever done it. • Before starting, spend a few moments just to reflect on the dishes and utensils and how they have helped you enjoy your meal. Take a moment to admire the work and craftsmanship that went into designing and making these items. • Feel the fine movements of your arms, hands, and body as you lift and manipulate the dishes. – Notice the coolness or warmth of the water as it splashes on your hands. – Sense the weight, texture, and shape of utensils and plates • Notice the smells and scents of the dishwashing liquid. • Observe all the unique colors and shapes on the dishes as if you had never seen them before. • Listen to the sound of the water and the clinking of plates and cups, and other sounds in the environment. • If you get distracted, return to the sensing of each moment.
The point of this practice is not to say you will suddenly love washing the dishes. The idea is to change your relationship to an activity. To experience it in a whole new way that lets go of your previous assumptions and dislikes. I hope you found this activity useful; let us know your thoughts and what came up for you in the comment section. Changing any habitual behavior is difficult and it will take time, patience, and practice. So please remember, wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
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"For fast-acting relief, try slowing down." ~Lily Tomlin
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