What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the state of being attentively aware of our inner and outer environment.
How can Mindfulness help us?
Many of us spend our days either preoccupied with the past or worrying about the future. This gives little time and ability for us to focus on the here and now. Learning to be present in the moment can positively impact our home, our work and all of our relationships. Our loved ones need our mindful presence. They need us to be able to be able to really listen to them and embrace them, in the moment, without the distractions of past or future.
Mindfulness enhances our enjoyment of life. Imagine pausing to actually taste our food, to enjoy the sweetness of our children, the goodness of your partner. They are all there but are we paying attention? When we cut away distractions, we can experience so much more. Skip the TV while you eat. Set aside your cellphone when your loved ones are talking to you. This will give you deeper and stronger connections with others, energy and well-being.
Mindfulness helps us linger over experience. Food is not just taste. It is texture and fragrance. The human voice is not just a medium of information, it is tone, timber, accent and music. Mindfulness exposes the joy to be found even in the most ordinary things. How much more productive can we be at work, if we are not thinking of our shopping list? How much more sweet to hug our children when we are not thinking about our outfit for the morning? Simply put, mindfulness is the key to more fulfilling living.
For those of us who believe in God, mindfulness is the key to the discipline of devoting the mind and body and soul to the will and pleasure of God. In becoming more conscious of our own behavioral standards, our values and morality we have the opportunity to become “God-Conscious” in the deepest sense.
How can mindfulness help others?
Our mindfulness is also a precious gift to those around us. Human beings thrive on attention, not distracted attention, not shared attention, but full whole-hearted mindful attention. Every moment can be richer with positive experiences and goodness for your family, friends, colleagues and strangers.
We all crave to be heard but how many of us have truly learned to listen? Listening mindfully paying careful attention to desires and needs of others shows them that we really care about them. By listening to others we will be able to learn much more from one another. When we authentically open ourselves up to the experiences, emotions, and ideas of others, we can see the world through their eyes. With those new insights, we can better meet their material and emotional needs. So mindfulness can help our relationships with our families, our friends, strangers even our interactions with our pets, or other creatures around us.
God too deserves our full attention!
Mindfulness helps us to connect directly with God through meditation and prayer. The more we are able to “shut out” mental and emotional distractions, the more we are able to give these activities the focus they deserve. Contemplative prayer done with proper intention can connect us with our Source or Creator. In building a more connected and intimate relationship with The Divine we become more aware of God’s presence. We remind ourselves of God’s presence in our speech and in our action. When we learn about what pleases God: kindness, love, forgiveness, mercy, justice, etc. and if we are mindful of our duty to Him in all that we do and say we are much more likely to lead a life that brings peace and happiness to others, and therefore also to ourselves.
When we focus more and listen to others through mindfulness, we create positive energies which attract others to us, and can help us with feelings of low self- esteem, low mood, and feelings of anxiety and guilt that we might sometimes feel around other people. When our relationships are deeper and more authentic and the interactions between us and others feels more positive this increases our levels of joy and happiness and inner peace.
Mindfulness in thought, speech and action incorporated into our day to day lives enhances any positivity we bring into the world. We can create a light that shines on others, then reflects back on us.
How can we become more Mindful?
The ability for someone to be more mindful, like all spiritual efforts, begins with “intention.” A clear and passionate intention is already a very powerful force. First, we need to have the desire to be mindful. How do we know even want to be mindful? We have done our best to make it sound good but why not try it out ourselves? Below you can find some mindfulness exercises to try out- if that doesn’t convince you- perhaps a class, or lesson, or course on mindfulness may help. Choose one or two and see how it goes. Feel free to send us feedback on your experience!
[At the UGC we offer mindfulness therapy sessions- which can either be done as an individual or a group. (Please see therapies)- the classes can be tailored towards the area in your life that you think it would benefit most.]
Here are a few pieces of advice before you start.
1) Set your intention. Consider the benefits we mentioned above.
2) Adopt the openness of a researcher. These exercises are experiments. What happens, happens. What doesn’t, doesn’t.
3) The best things in life take time and effort but don’t overburden yourself. Take it slowly, step by step, then increase gradually.
4) Consistency counts. Set time aside morning, afternoon and evening for prayer or meditation during mindfulness.
5) The only failure in spiritual work is to give up. Even if the going is difficult, keep going and remember that even a little practice is good.
Mindfulness exercises: Consider trying these out!
1: Next time your child or a loved one is talking to you about what they did at school today- (if your mind is pre-occupied with running errands, cleaning, shopping, cooking, tidying, work etc)- ask yourself this question: Would I be listening to my child fully and mindfully and enjoying every moment listening to their beautiful whining voice- if I knew that later on that day or tomorrow either myself or my child were to be involved in a major car accident that took away one or both of our lives? Sometimes we can ‘shock ourselves’ into becoming more mindful in our relationship with others by remembering that none of us know what will happen tomorrow- anything could happen- How would this change our interactions with others? Most of us would prioritise listening to our loved ones more and showing them affection and love, if we were to remember that life is precious, and that we may not even be here tomorrow.
2. Next time you are eating an ice-cream, or a chocolate bar, or a packet of crisps, or enjoying a meal- try not to talk at the same time as eating. Eat slowly, and chew your food- With each mouthful, close your eyes and feel the textures in your mouth, think about the different flavours and ingredients, and reflect on the emotions in your brain that it triggers off. Do not watch TV, or try to read a book at the same time, just sit there quietly and enjoy the food.
3. Next time you go for a walk to the park- take five-ten minutes to sit in a quiet spot by yourself. Close your eyes and use your ears to listen to the sound of the wind, the sound of water by a stream or a river flowing past, of birds chatting to one another, the sound of trees swaying gently, the sound of the buzzing of bees. Can you hear the music of nature? Now become part of it- us the imagination.
No open your eyes and look around you. What do you see? Choose something like the river, or stream, or a butterfly, or a flower, or a tree. look at it. Concentrate on its colours, its texture- imagine how it would feel touching it- look at how it is moving, the sounds it is making, the beauty of it - reflect on what it is, why it is what it is, and ask questions- try to connect with what you see around you. Now imagine becoming what you see. Imagine what it would feel like to be a tree, or a fish in the stream, or a bird, or a bee, or a flower…
Mindfulness and God
For those who believe in a Creator (or a “Higher Power”), practicing mindfulness is a good way to start to ‘connect’ to God. Even just taking a few minutes for prayer and meditaton at the start of the day, during the afternoon, and at the end of the day can be transformative. By leaving what we are doing and making time for us to switch off from the worldly distractions, we free ourselves to remember God- and His beautiful attributes, to praise Him, and to pray for others, to ask Him to guide us, help us to better ourselves, to become more mindful of our speech and actions.
A simple exercise in mindfulness and prayer
We can get much more benefit from prayer and meditation if we are more mindful. Things to consider while trying to become more mindful during prayer: Wash your hands, face, arms and feet with water (ablution). Then go to somewhere quiet with no distractions in a space which makes you feel at ease, comfortable and private. Seek refuge in God from distractions, or from dark thoughts. Put yourself in the prostration position with your knees bent, forehead on the ground, hands and palms on the floor facing down beside your face Stay in this position for 5 minutes. Imagine all your emotions, and thoughts flowing out of your body, through your brain and out into the ground. Any anxiety you may have, any fear, any negative emotions, sadness, guilt, anger- let them flow out of your body. Focus on this flow of negative energy flowing into the ground. After a couple of minutes, lift your head up, with your knees still bent and kneeling on the ground, close your eyes and imagine a light shining on your face. Feel the warmth of the light on your face, imagine it like a blessing, a positive energy, a ray of hope and peace taking over the space in your body that was occupied by the negative energy that has been removed. Repeat this exercise as often as you like. Each time you prostrate and place your forehead to the ground- concentrate, ‘see’ and ‘feel ‘or ‘imagine’ the negative energy flowing out of you, and each time you sit up, imagine the ray of light shining on you, bringing positive energy into your life. Experiment a bit! You can try adding speech to these actions too – for example using prayers from scripture, or having a conversation with God directly in any way your soul and heart direct you.
(Based on reflections of Lale Tuncer and Lee Weissman)