https://www.smh.com.au-By Kimberly Gillan
Knowing that everyone from psychologists to scientists to yogis spruik the incredible benefits of mindfulness, I’ve made it my personal mission to soak up every micro moment with my baby so that her milky smell and adorable giggles will forever be tattooed in my memory.
I know I need to do this, because almost every parent that’s gone before me has begged me to soak it all up because “they grow up in the blink of an eye”.
“It seems the harder I try to be mindful, the less present I am.”Credit:Illustration: Dionne Gain
In the bag, I confidently thought. I’ve been doing yoga and meditation for years. I’ll be perfectly present.
The trouble is that lately my mind has had other ideas and no sooner have we settled into the feeding chair than my thoughts are galloping anywhere but her angelic little cheeks. I’ll be workshopping story ideas, making plans for my family or mentally overhauling our garden before I realise I’m off with the fairies and wrist-slap myself for not soaking up her sweetness.
The more my mind wanders, the more I fret that I’m missing out on the fleeting moments that I’m told I will be pining for for the rest of my life, so I start commanding myself: Take a deep breath; Look at her tiny fingers; Soak up this moment; Stop thinking about other things.
But it seems the harder I try to be mindful, the less present I am, so I turned to mindfulness coach Kate James, author of the upcoming book Change Your Thinking To Change Your Life, and wellness coach Lyndall Mitchell, who facilitates Aurora Spa’s online Daily Rituals To Reduce Stress course, to help understand why forcing yourself to be mindful can actually just stress you out.
Judgment be gone
It turns out that while I understood the theory of noticing your surrounds and trying to ignore worries about the past or plans for the future, I’ve been missing a key part of mindfulness – to do so without judgment.
“There are two aspects of mindfulness that are important – the first is coming back to the present moment and the second is not judging,” James says.
“In coming back to the present moment, you might notice, ‘I am feeding the baby and I am planning things I need to do later’. If that feels frustrating, you might then think, ‘I’m noticing I’m feeling grief/anger/anxiety/frustration’. The ultimate experience is to learn to be with everything that is there, allowing for the experience of life to move through you.”
So authentic mindfulness isn’t necessarily about trying to clear those scattered thoughts – it’s about curiously observing what’s going on in the labyrinth of our brains.
“A lot of us are in the habit of wanting things to be different to what they are right now,” James points out.
Practice makes presence
Mitchell believes that mindfulness is not unlike our biceps – if we flex and work the muscle, it becomes stronger.
“It’s a practice that we develop when we’re not stressed so that we can use it when we are,” she says.
While mindfulness meditation is probably the gold standard of “practice”, Mitchell suggests peppering our days with simple mindful activities to help us get used to less multi-tasking.
That might mean deeply inhaling aromatherapy body wash in the shower; taking three deep breaths whenever you can; doing some gardening; immersing yourself in a good book; or doing some journaling.
“You practice it when there are minimal distractions so that when there are distractions, you can practice it and see how you go,” she says.
James says our best mindful tools are our breath, our senses and our body awareness.
“If we notice difficult thoughts or emotions rising, we can take a few breaths and feel a sense of space around, ‘What do I do here? Do I want to add more unhelpful thoughts or see if there is a different way of interacting with this?’” she says.
“If we use the body, we can be present to how we hold our body. Just adjusting my posture at my desk creates a whole flow-on effect at a physiological level. Similarly, just pausing and checking in, with, ‘How am I feeling and what is it that I need in the next 10 minutes?’.”
Respect the juggle without the judgment
The fact is, we can’t be gloriously present every moment of every day or we would get nothing done.
“That would be looking for things to be different than what they are,” Mitchell points out. “[Mindfulness] is about developing curiosity and kindness about where we are in this moment.”
So true mindfulness might actually mean cutting ourselves some slack if we have a frantic or wandering mind.
“It’s like, ‘Right now, I’m living my life with the amount of skills that I have, and this is where I’m at’,” Mitchell says.
“Even if you weren’t mindful that hour, you can start again the next hour.”