Mindfulness is an increasingly hot topic and hailed as being beneficial for good mental health. I have found my own place of calm and meditation when spending time in the great outdoors, but there are times when my life and work does not afford me enough outdoors space and that is when I imagine mindfulness would be an asset. Yet, for all manner of reasons, I am yet to discover mindfulness for myself.
I asked my good friend, journalist and mindfulness advocate Ellen Arnison, 51, for her thoughts on the subject.
Here is Ellen’s imagined conversation on mindfulness:
What do you know about mindfulness?
I’ve been “doing” mindfulness for a few years now, starting with a course run by Everyday Mindfulness Scotland in 2012.
Good for you, but what is it?
Oddly, despite utter conviction in the value of mindfulness, it’s still something I find a little difficult to explain. Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it far better than I could when he says: “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention from moment to moment to whatever arises, with curiosity and without judgement.”
Erm. Nope. None the wiser.
Still doesn’t really help you though, does it? Maybe it would help if I told you about how it works for me.
Go on then.
Mindfulness taught me that my mind and my body are connected. I suppose I used to think it was like The Man With Two Brains and I had a soft squashy body that was being run by something like a computer chip, albeit a fairly rubbish computer.
It’s not like that at all. Every emotion you feel shows up in your body and your brain can be changed, just like your body.
Right. Mind-body connection wooo.
OK, but you know you’ve got to keep your body fit and healthy – food, exercise, that kind of thing? Just apply the same thinking to the brain. You don’t question the logic of doing something to keep fit, and of doing it regularly even when you don’t much want to and you don’t feel you’re very good at it.
OK, that makes sense.
Probably way behind most of Ms Outdoor’s audience, but the first time you understand that all you have to do to complete a 10k is to follow the training programme. Same deal here.
How do you know it works? It’s not like you can see changes like you can with your body.
Eh? How does your brain feel then? Hmmm?
Right now, it’s feeling like it’s had enough of a workout to be able to settle down for a few minutes before switching off for the day.
At first, it’s a bit odd to think about how your brain feels. Less odd and more impossible, perhaps.
OK, try this. How does your left big toe feel right now? After a moment or two of paying attention, you can be quite clear about that digit. A bit chilly? Somewhat squashed? Tickly? Whatever.
Now using the logic that your brain is simply a part of your body then the same thing will apply. Simple.
If you say so. Now what else do you know?
All your emotions show up in your body? It’s true. Bring to mind something you feel embarrassed about and identify where the feeling is (mine is mid throat). See? You really do feel all the feels.
Your mind is the only thing that creates the feelings. If you did that thing in the previous paragraph, you’ll have proved this point. How you react to your thoughts and things that happen to you is entirely up to you – in theory.
The penny dropped for me the first time when I realised I’d missed a call from a client. In an instant, my mind had gone off convinced that the client would be upset and want to dump me and it would be awful and embarrassing. By the time I got round to calling the poor chap back, I was in a right state. It turns out, he wanted me to do more work for him not less. I realised that this whole drama was, in fact, a fiction. And sometimes just knowing something’s not true is enough.
Meditation improves concentration. You know the days when you’ve got so much on you don’t know where to start, so you start in all directions at once? Yup. Those days. Stop for 10 minutes of breathing and paying attention and, as if by magic, your mind will settle down and you can get on with it.
Sorry, meditation’s not for me – it’d be easier to ride a unicycle.
Meditation isn’t a competitive sport and everyone finds it difficult some of the time. That’s kind of the point. Just as minds like to make things up, they also don’t like to pay attention to something you tell them to. In the same way as you need to keep at it to maintain and improve your fitness, you need to work at meditation.
Isn’t it boring?
Shouldn’t be. If you find yourself thinking about how dull it is, chances are you’ve probably done enough for the moment, or you need a new technique.
I can’t sit cross-legged.
No one expects you to. You can meditate in whatever position you like. There are kinds that work with things you do already, like walking or commuting.
And what about being over 50?
When your life feels like its slipping through your fingers like sand and your hormones are chucking you about too, mindfulness can make you feel like you have some control over it all. And it helps prevent you committing murder.
OK, I’ll give it a spin. How do I get started?
Either find a local course or use an app such as Headspace.