What is Mindfulness?
(From ‘Yoga and Mindfulness Workshop’ in April 2018)
Many years ago I privately taught a student who was suffering from major depression. After our first lesson, he said ‘It was very good. Because it was so difficult (it wasn’t), I had to really concentrate and I didn’t think depressive thoughts’. At the time I thought it was a little too simplistic, but looking back now, I think there was a lot of truth in what he said.
The word ‘mindfulness’ is used to mean meditation, but of course it also means mindful awareness. It can be in any activity. It can be eating, brushing teeth or driving, but yoga is indeed a very good platform to practice mindfulness.
The prestigious Science magazine once ran an article titled ‘A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind’. Although human ability to think about the things which are not going on around us, planning, thinking about the future or what happened in the past, was the major evolutionary achievement, the article suggests this ‘stimulus independent thought’ or ‘mind wandering ‘ may come with some emotional cost.
Imagine you are sitting by the sea watching the sunset or just enjoying a cup of tea in your hand. The sea is beautiful and so is the sunset and the tea is warm and aromatic. BUT, next to you, there is someone, constantly talking about just about everything. Something happened yesterday, something happened on the way, about someone who just went by, what she is going to eat tonight, the problems at home, how much she is dreading going to work on Monday….. Anything and everything. Not necessarily bad things but just endless meaningless talks.
And you really want to say, ‘Shut up! I want to enjoy the sunset and the tea. I want to soak in the moment. I don’t want to listen to you!’
To me, mindfulness practice is like this.
Do you know what a snow shaker is? Something you may have around Christmas time. Dome shaped ornament filled with some fluid and has fake snow and a small figure (such as snowman or Santa) at the bottom. You shake it and the snowflakes go all over but if you leave it for a while, the snow settles and you can see the figure.
If I sit and just keep focusing on my breathing, just keep letting go of any thought and keep coming back to my breath, and if I sit long enough, my thoughts may eventually settle. The fake snow will come to the bottom and the annoying person next to me may eventually get the message.
Then I may finally enjoy the cup of tea.
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