The quite short guide to mindfulness by Padraig O’Morain

Mindfulness is a very old technique which is becoming increasingly popular at the present time. Although it is linked to Buddhism, most of the people who use mindfulness in the West today are not Buddhists. People use mindfulness because they find it reduces stress and gives them a greater sense of control over their lives. Mindfulness helps people to get more enjoyment out of their good times and to handle their bad times better.

You can read this document in a couple of minutes. Practising takes a little longer. The good news, though, is that you can begin to use mindfulness straightaway.

What is mindfulness?

At its simplest, mindfulness means being aware of what you are doing while you are doing it. This means being aware that you are breathing, walking, driving, running making a phone call, cooking a meal and so on. When you have thoughts, notice that you have thoughts and come back to awareness of what you are actually doing. When you are emotional just notice the emotion – not trying to deepen it and not trying to push it away – and come back to awareness of what you are doing.

Is mindfulness the same as living in the now?

Yes. When you practice mindfulness, you gently bring yourself back into the present moment every time you notice that you have drifted in your mind back to the past or into the future. Also, you gently bring yourself back to the present moment whenever you realise that you have drifted off into your imagination. The word “gently” is important. Never, ever scold yourself for drifting away from awareness. Drifting is what minds do. Accept this fact and take your awareness back to the present moment.

Can I still plan and think about things I need to think about?

Yes. In fact mindfulness can be really helpful in planning because it can reduce the chances that you will get lost in a fantasy. You can plan mindfully by being aware that you are planning and by bringing your mind back to what you are doing whenever it drifts off.

Are there some quick mindfulness exercises I can do to help me to cultivate mindfulness?

Yes. Here are three:

1. Get in touch with your senses. Notice the temperature of your skin. Notice that you are breathing in and out. Notice background sounds around you. Notice your breathing again.

2. Just notice your breathing. Just notice that you are breathing in and out. Notice the in-breath and the out-breath. When thoughts come into your mind just return to your breathing. Do not get involved with them. Simply go back to noticing your breathing in and out.

3. Create mindfulness triggers. Pick some everyday things that you do routinely. Decide that whenever you do them you will be mindful and will be aware that you are doing them. Examples are: using the telephone, going up or down stairs or steps, arranging your desk or other workspace, tidying, washing up, taking a shower.

Are there other more intensive exercises I can do?

Yes. If you want to cultivate mindfulness more seriously, try one of these:

Awareness of breathing. Sit still. Notice that you are breathing in and out. Notice the in-breath and the out-breath. If you are breathing through your nose, notice the air is colder when entering your nose than when leaving. When thoughts come into your mind just let them float on by. Do not get involved with them. If you like you can just label your thoughts: when you get a thought, just say to yourself “thinking”. Then simply go back to noticing your breathing in and out. If you like, you can count your breaths, counting from 1 to 10 and then back to 1 again. If you feel uncomfortable in your body, simply take your awareness back your breathing. If you feel pain, simply take your awareness back to your breathing. Do this for 5-20 minutes, once or twice a day.

Awareness of walking. Walk along slowly. Notice the feeling of the ground against your feet. Notice your breathing as you walk. Walk in a straight line or a circle or up and down in some place where you will not be interrupted. Again, when thoughts come into your mind just let them float on by. Do not get involved with them. If you like you can just label your thoughts: when you get a thought, just say to yourself “thought”. When you drift into your imagination bring your mind back to your walking. Do not look at your watch too often. Just be aware that you are walking, of the feel of walking and of your breathing. Do this for 20 minutes once or twice a day.

When do I start?

Right now! Mindfulness and its benefits are available to you whenever you decide to practice awareness. Enjoy it.