You know the story. You probably live it every day. Your alarm goes off, your heart rate rises even before your feet have hit the floor. It’s a weekday morning, which means rush and bustle and stress (and sometimes tears!). The mental ‘to do’ list is running circuits in your mind, screaming out the things you need to do and make and gather and transport. You’re multi-tasking while you’re drinking your morning coffee, and there’s no time to manage more than a few quick bites of breakfast.
The morning rush means something different for every family, but it’s probably fair to say it measures somewhere around the ‘taxing and terrible’ mark on the morning Richter scale for most of us. So what can we do?
Mindfulness holds some answers.
According to ReachOut.com, “When a person is mindful, they:
- focus on the present moment
- try not to think about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in future
- purposefully concentrate on what’s happening around them
- try not to be judgemental about anything they notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
We spend so much time thinking over stuff that has happened in the past, or worrying about things that may happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens.”
An ancient practice with its roots in Eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism, Taoism and yoga, mindfulness is now part of mainstream psychology, mostly because of the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
So, to be mindful, we need to live in the pinprick of time known as ‘the now’ and not judge what we find in that moment (just observe it as it passes through–a bit like watching boats on a lake or planes in a blue sky). It’s not dipping into the past or the future; instead, it’s being here, right now, which is really the only moment we ever truly have. Here’s how the greatest champion of present-moment living, Eckhart Tolle describes it:
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
And this …
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and
not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
So how do we get mindful? Meditation is certainly one well-known way (check out the global mindfulness meditation challenge, Mindful in May for example), but it’s possible to get into a mindful state even when you’re in the middle of a busy morning—or any other high-stress time. These two quick tricks are my favourites:
- Mindful moment: This is about bringing your sole focus to whatever you’re doing right now. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes’:“While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves … If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes’. What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realising the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
(Sarah Napthali offers a similar idea in her book, Buddhism for mothers.)
We can use the ‘washing the dishes’ idea for any task: making the lunches, washing fruit, buying the groceries, watching our child’s soccer match, sitting in a meeting, ironing the clothes, playing a game … It’s all about gently bringing our full attention to the task before us, fully engrossed in the moment so that we can fully experience the moment. (This great Huffington Post piece has more ideas.)
- Mindful walking: This one is about walking with your mind focused completely on the soles of your feet. Focus on the sensations of the bottom of each foot in its shoe, the gentle pressure on each foot with each step you take, any movement, any pressure, and feelings. Not judging the feelings, just noticing them. With that sustained focus, you can be fully in the present moment and release the stress and strain of a busy morning. I like to do this exercise while walking back to my car after dropping the kids at school. It can be pretty calming after the chaos. (You can read how Thich Nhat Hanh describes this idea in his book, The miracle of mindfulness.)
Applying mindfulness to the morning rush is a beautiful strategy. According to Act Mindfully, “practising mindfulness helps you to:
- be fully present, here and now
- experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
- become aware of what you’re avoiding
- become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
- become less judgemental
- increase self-awareness
- become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
- learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
- have more direct contact with the world, rather than living through your thoughts
- learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
- have more balance, less emotional volatility
- experience more calm and peacefulness
- develop self-acceptance and self-compassion.”
Seriously, doesn’t mindfulness just sound like a miracle for busy mornings (and larger life)?
If you’d like to dive deeper, you could read:
The power of now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
The happiness trap: stop struggling, start living by Dr Russ Harris
More on Mindful in May: It’s a global mindfulness meditation challenge, created by Australian doctor, coach and wellness innovator, Elise Bialylew. Participants receive daily 10-minute guided mindful meditations for 30 days, which can really help to “upgrade our inner technology” (our mind) to better handle our busy, multi-tasking world. Funds raised go towards building clean water projects in developing countries. You can take the challenge as a group or individual.