Imagine you are walking through a forest on your own. Suddenly a large, angry looking dog appears in your path, baring his teeth.
You tell yourself how awful this is – but it’s not over yet: another dog has appeared beside the first one.
This isn’t just awful – it’s a catastrophe, you think. Suddenly two more dogs appear.
How unfair this is, you declare. All you wanted to do was to walk through the forest to relax and now you are confronted by these four scary dogs. Oh, they’ve been joined by another four so now you have eight scary dogs to contend with.
Just suppose seven of these eight dogs have been conjured up by your imagination. So there’s actually just one dog. The problem is, you’re reacting to eight dogs, not one. And you may not even be focussing your attention on the real dog.
That’s how it is when the mind leaps to add memories, fantasies, fears and assumptions to our reality. Suddenly challenges can seem many times worse than they really are and we can easily lose touch with the reality of our situation.
When we practice mindfulness, we return our attention back to reality – back to that one dog in this case – whenever we find we have drifted out of touch with what’s actually going on. This helps us to negotiate our way through life with less fuss, less stress and fewer complications than would otherwise be the case.
Back to breathing
And the method really is as simple as moving our attention from our imagination and back to our breathing, our walking, our posture or to whatever it is we use as a focus for mindfulness. The trick lies in being willing to bring our attention back and in doing so often.
If we do that, we will become skilled at reducing the number of dogs from eight to one and perhaps that one dog will just come and look to be petted. And if he turns out to be unfriendly it is better to deal with one real dog on its own than with one real dog and seven imaginary dogs at the same time.