Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word these days but don’t be tempted into thinking it’s a fad. It might have only been on our Western radar for a few short years but mindfulness has actually been around for thousands of years, forming part of the spiritual practice for many religions (some would argue most religions) around the world.
But don’t worry if you’re not religiously minded, mindfulness is not a religious practice and doesn’t require any kind of faith or belief in anything…except perhaps the belief that our minds are important and should be nurtured and kept healthy.
So What Exactly is Mindfulness?
Have you ever been in the company of someone who just won’t shut up? They chatter away non-stop, completely oblivious to how annoying and intrusive they’re being. That’s what my mind is like (and probably yours too). It just won’t give up. It yabbers on and on telling me all sorts of stuff like:
- You shouldn’t wear that skirt – your legs don’t look as good as they did when you were 20.
- That guy in front of me is driving so slowly JUST TO ANNOY ME!!
- I suck at writing/gardening/cooking/parenting/fill in the blank
- Some terrible accident will befall my kids and they’re going to die!
- Some terrible accident will befall my partner and he’s going to die!
- Some terrible accident will befall me and I’m going to die!
- I really, really need to buy that new book/dress/gadget/online course or my life won’t be complete.
- Every decision I make regarding my kids is WRONG and I’m going to scar them for life.
- I’m so ANGRY with my partner for that thing he said earlier. It’s just like that time three weeks ago. Come to think of it he clearly doesn’t appreciate me at all. And neither do my kids! Oh God now I’m just feeling sorry for myself – it’s so unenlightened of me. No wonder no-one appreciates me – what is there to appreciate? Oh God why am I like this? It must stem from my childhood or something. Maybe I need to go and talk to someone…
Maybe I’ve just outed myself on the Interweb as a complete nutjob.
Or maybe you can relate. Or maybe no-one’s ever going to read this post anyway (thanks Mind…).
Mindfulness is a tool to help us learn to take a step back from the craziness of our thoughts and emotions so that we’re no longer ruled by them. It’s like finding the calm in the eye of the storm.
At it’s simplest and most basic, mindfulness means being present in the moment. It’s making the choice between disappearing into the chaos of your thoughts or noticing that bird singing outside your window and the smell of the coffee you just made.
Mindfulness is a skill and a very simple skill at that but it’s incredibly difficult for us grownups to master. We have a lifetime of ‘mindlessness’ that doesn’t want to go away.
Imagine if you had learned at school, or your parents had taught you at an early age, how to allow your thoughts and emotions to come and go like clouds in the sky instead of hurtling, crashing and clanging around your head like a ball in a pinball machine.
It doesn’t take a genius to make the leap between the stories our minds tell us and the high incidence of mental disorders in our society – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, stress, suicidal thoughts.
Hands up if you never want your kids to experience any of these.
Here’s a scary statistic from Youth Beyond Blue – 1 in 7 kids aged between 4 and 17 experienced a mental health condition in 2013/2014. 1 in 7??!! That’s 3-4 kids in every school classroom! From the age of 4 years old?! There is something terribly, terribly wrong with this picture.
Those of you who just experienced a massive bout of anxiety or depression from reading that statistic will be relieved to know that there is a growing body of evidence that shows mindfulness significantly reduces anxiety and depression when practiced on a regular basis. It can also reduce feelings of body-shame and low self-worth.
It is hard growing up in today’s society. It’s impossible to escape all the messages from the media about how we should look, feel or act; what we should buy, wear, eat, drink or play with. No wonder more and more of our children are developing mental health conditions and at younger and younger ages.
We can’t shelter our kids from everything but we can give them the tools to better navigate the sometimes savage world of growing up. Mindfulness is one of those tools.
In my next post, I’ll talk a little bit more about what mindfulness is and share some of my favourite mindfulness tools that can help you and your family learn these important life skills.
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