Is your mind full?Mar 21, 2023
When I was younger, I initially found both mindfulness and meditation to be a waste of time. I believed that if I wasn’t thinking, then I wasn’t being productive. If I didn’t jump in the fire to help my friends and didn’t feel deeply, I wasn’t a good friend. I believed that life was too short to sit still and glorified ‘busy’. To me, a still mind meant a dead mind. How wrong I was!
In 2013, my world was spun on its head when my father died suddenly. My whole life, I had been ‘preparing’ for his departure from this world. He was 45 when I was born, and I grew up with a fear that he wouldn’t see past my 16th birthday. The irony was, he lived longer than he anticipated, witnessed his children grow up and have their own families, and although I had spent decades waiting for the call, I still wasn’t prepared when it came.
There’s nothing quite like the experience of losing a parent. When it was my turn to say goodbye, I felt an emptiness that has stayed with me ever since.
Logically, you can rationalise death and well-meaning people say things like, ‘He had a good innings,’ ‘At least he died quickly,’ ‘You’re lucky you had 36 years with him,’ ‘It’s the circle of life,’ but on a deeply emotional level, no amount of logic can move you through the grief you find yourself in.
In the weeks after his death, I would find myself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night unable to sleep with thoughts racing through my mind. I’m sure you’ve had nights when you can’t sleep and every tiny thought snowball into catastrophe, leaving you restless and stressed.
In those moments, the darkest of my life so far, my mind felt scrambled and my emotions were extreme and unrelenting.
One night, a few weeks after I had returned to my home in New Zealand from England where my family were, I googled mindfulness for beginners and stumbled across an app called Headspace. The host, Andy Puddicombe, was from England, so I was immediately drawn to his voice and message of developing mindfulness with just 10 minutes of practice a day.
Although I knew my head was full of crazy, exhausting thoughts,when I sat down to do one of Andy’s meditations for the first time, I was shocked by how much noise was in there! He talked about focusing on my breathing and encouraged me to notice when I had got hooked on a thought and moved away from the breath. When the mind took me away, Andy said, ‘Just label it ‘thought’ or ‘feeling’ and gently come back to the breath.’ I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I lost count of how many times I had to pull myself back!
That first experience proved just how much noise was in my head and how much work there was to do to be free.
As the days and weeks passed, I continued my commitment to 10 minutes of meditation a day. During that time, I learned how to allow the grief to move through me.
The time I spent in meditation offered me the chance to slow my brain down, give it a rest and reset. The outcome meant I was less past- and future-orientated and I was more connected to the people and things that were right in front of me. I was able to sit with the overwhelming thoughts and feelings and let them wash over me instead of being swept down the river with them.
Beyond the grief, I learned so much about myself – how I was living life on autopilot without the awareness and skills to break free from the confines of my mind. What also surprised me was how many times I used food, exercise and work as a distraction from my feelings.
Off the mat, meditation gave me the freedom to create a new reality. I became less reactive; I spent less time ruminating and could unhook from negative states more quickly.
What I found was that I was resistant to letting go of the grief. My ego was committed to the belief that if I let go of the pain, it meant I didn’t care about my dad. The pain that I had was so connected to the love that I felt for him, that to let go of it left me cold. This took quite a long time to unpack, but by doing the work, I realised that again, it was a pattern I had created throughout my life. To show I cared about a person, situation or thing, I developed strong attachments and a deep connection between pain and love. Consistent meditation and constant vigilance to my hardwired conditioned pattern,eventually broke a very strong belief that changed how I saw and reacted to the world. Powerful stuff!
Mindfulness and the practice of meditation literally changed how I saw the world, and as a direct result, my life changed for the better. It didn’t happen overnight and it is a constant commitment. Being mindful and raising awareness links back to taking 100 per cent responsibility for our lives, the way we perceive it and how we show up to it. Meditation is the vehicle to fast-tracking your body and mind to that place.
Here’s the lowdown on what it could do for you.
If you are over the word 'mindfulness' being thrown around social media, then you are not alone! Like so many words, they get thrown around so often that they lose their meaning.
When I think about mindfulness, I see a busy mind. A mind that is full. Therefore, mindfulness to me is just a skill that allows people to step back enough to become aware of their habits, reactions and subsequent outcomes. By stepping back, they are then able to make informed choices about how they are living their lives.
Mindfulness is a skill:
It has been said that we are human beings, not human doings. There’s a reason we have been given intelligence and a soul. Mindfulness teaches you to step off the treadmill and choose a different way of living, with less doing and more being.
It is the basic human ability to be self-aware on a physical and mental level, whilst remaining detached from the thoughts and feelings we experience in a given moment.
When we learn mindfulness, it allows us to become aware of thoughts, and then create space between those thoughts and consequent actions, giving us a window of opportunity to choose how we respond to a given situation rather than reacting habitually.
Mindfulness encourages flexibility and curiosity instead of rigidness and judgement, which in turn gives us the freedom to make decisions that align with our values rather than being trapped in a miserable habitual cycle of stress.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere, at any given moment. Over time, you will be able to quickly observe negative thoughts and patterns and consciously make corrections and positively move forward.
The downside to ‘waking up’ and living mindfully, however, is that pain will undoubtedly arise. Pain from your past, fear of the future and moving beyond the habitual patterns of y mind. It takes awareness and a true commitment to the bigger picture to stay on course.
Mindfulness is bringing consciousness to the unconscious mind and that requires discipline, commitment and time.
Mindfulness allows you to:
- Let go of the conditioned stories created by your past experiences
- Accept life as it is rather than what you want it to be
- Step back from the reactive habitual responses you have to life
- Live in the present
- Challenge thoughts and ‘choose again’
- Unhook from repetitive thoughts and stories
- Release old trauma
Meditation is a practice. It is a learned skill that you build on which offers a medium to obtain more mindfulness in your everyday life.
Meditation is mostly a sitting or lying practice and there are hundreds of different styles and philosophies that surround this ancient art.
From the yogis to the military, meditation is a skill that asks you to sit with courage, lean into your reality and be accepting of what arises in that moment.
Meditation brings you:
- Time for yourself
- Time to reset
- More applied, focused living
- Detachment from negative emotions
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental health