I’d written and published “Is This It?” a few days ago but I’ve had this uncomfortable feeling I hadn’t really gotten to the core of what I was trying to say.
Looking back, I had not written it in the first person, so I have decided to write it again, and I won’t delete my last effort- there should be no shame in revising your ideas.
In fact, this is exactly what I was trying to say, the idea of repetition, of practice is so important not just in developing skills in our jobs or hobbies, but in the act of mindfulness itself. To repeat something is to gain better clarity, better understanding of the thing we are trying to do- any musician out there could tell us that they have to repeat and repeat a certain piece of music until they can play it fluently, play it by entering a state of flow.
Yet there is a reluctance as adults for us to repeat something, seeing ourselves perhaps as stupid having to repeat a word over and over again if trying to learn a new language or repeat the same movement with our bodies to learn a dance. But this fear is something only the beginner feels, the vast incompetence and potential failures before them often put a could-be Beethoven or Torvil off becoming great, simply through their reluctance to embrace being a beginner.
The difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to overcome fear of failure, to fail repeatedly, and to fail with unwavering hope that the battle will be won.
As I said in the previous post, daily life is all about repetition, but we take it for granted that we know how to brush our teeth, put on our clothes, and make toast in the toaster. But some time, very long ago when we were a child, we had to repeat this activity, once upon a time our motor skills had not developed and we had to learn how to pull a jumper over our heads, to hold the brush against our teeth, we had to practice, and we did so perhaps not always willingly, but we had to, to develop our skills of surviving as a human being.
Now as adults, our reluctance to repeat something is just that inner child saying “no!’ to put their shoes on or brush their hair, except now we don’t say it to our parents, we say it to ourselves. And just like our child, there seems to be no logic in saying no!
So when I spoke before of thinking back to the things you have already achieved, it wasn’t just about the degrees you’ve earned, or that house you’ve managed to buy. It’s the small victories too, learning to get dressed, learning how to type, learning how to make toast. And all of them came from repetition, repeating small dull and testing tasks over and over again, until you finally win, one day, and you can type out a blog or a letter, without even thinking. In a way this is a state of flow, because it comes to you naturally, and you complete the task, without even realising you’re doing it.
What is mindfulness?
So how does this relate to mindfulness? As I mentioned in the post before, “mindfulness is the practice of keeping something in the forefront of your mind. This is why we hear about things like mindful eating or mindful walking. Being mindful simply means keeping the activity or thing you are concentrating on, at the front of your attention- not being easily swayed to other thoughts”.
Repetition and practice are mindful activity. When you concentrate on achieving something you focus your entire attention on the task at hand.
The sad thing is, once we grow up to become adults, we still have the child-like tendencies and insecurities in learning something new yet we think we shouldn’t, in reality, no one ever grows up from fear; we can only learn to look at it rationally, accepting it for what it is and moving through it, and keep practising regardless. Mindfulness is the technique we cam employ to help us move forward through our fear, with complete focus in our daily lives, we can transfer these skills to other things we want to accomplish.
As I spoke about in the previous post, being mindful is about being aware of the present moment you are in, and if you are practicing a kind of mindful meditation (whether you are going about your daily routine or just sitting) you will know that your mind has the tendency to wander off, and as you notice it do so, encouraging it gently back to the object or task at hand is the act of mindfulness itself.
How can I implement mindfulness in my daily life?
So how do you practice mindfulness?
For anyone who didn’t read the previous post here is something I suggested you could do to experience what mindfulness is.
“Mindfulness is as we discovered above, is focusing our attention on what activity or object is in front of us now. As we sharpen our attention on the now, much like focusing a camera or microscope, the clarity with which we see things as they really are in the current moment becomes much clearer. Mindful attention helps us to stay present with what’s happening now, helping to reduce stress and anxiety for the future, and helps reduce the stories we can sometimes indulge in about the past.
The simplest way to begin to experience mindfulness is to take a moment where you are to listen to the noises around you. What can you hear? Are there cars, birds, the rustling of leaves in the wind? Is it silent? Or can you hear the rustling of your clothes as you shift in your seat? Can you hear the sound as you swallow or breathe? Now think, did you hear those sounds before, all of them, any of them? Did you notice them before you started to pay attention to them?
It’s quite likely that before you focussed your attention on the noises that are all around you and within you, you probably didn’t hear them at all. Mindfulness is simply the act of giving attention to something, and when we start to give this attention to the emotions that we experience in our daily lives, it can help alleviate them, as we watch them and allow them to pass like the gentle lapping of the sea on to the shore.
Emotions are not constant, they are states that come and go. Once we start to understand that no emotion, however intense, painful or pleasurable, doesn’t last, merely ebbs back into the sea of experience, we begin to let go of our tendencies to hold on tightly to the emotions that present themselves to us. Perhaps the feeling will rise again, but it will surely go once more and other feelings take its place.
So if you are experiencing an overwhelming wave of anxiety, fear, panic, be kind to yourself by acknowledging the feeling itself, and rather than thinking around the reason why you feel that way. Gently focus your attention on the feeling itself, and allow it be with you, then pass naturally, not pushing it away, nor holding onto it to stay.”
So mindfulness is act of bringing your attention back to the present moment. When we start to observe the waves in which our states come to us, whether fear or joy, anger or love, to help us move through them we can gently acknowledge their presence, naming them (fear, hate, lust, jealousy, pain etc) and noting only the state itself (again, we do not want to let our minds drift into the reason or story of why we feel that way) and once we focus on the what, we soon see that the why evaporates and becomes unimportant.
I’m not going to pretend to you that this is an easy task, it is not. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has a funny but accurate way to describe the relentless chatterings inside us- he calls it the “Monkey Mind” and just like a monkey, our stories and thoughts play havoc within ourselves until we learn to train them, but this training as we saw above takes practice, thousands of attempts and endless hours of tedious, testing, painful practice.
So I had to rewrite this blog post, because the piece I wrote before was subject to my own monkey mind. I’d let him run loose whilst I was writing and the task I should have been focused on was distracted by his mischief. We will all have hiccups along the road of self-realisation, we will all get distracted by the wandering of our own mind, but the trick is just to notice that the wandering is happening, and then you can bring yourself back to the present moment.
But you might just find you need to keep a plentiful supply of bananas to hand, to keep your monkey quiet.
If you want to read my own practice run of this post you can here.