“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” mindfulness expert and Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn explains. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
It doesn’t take much for distraction to worm its way into our day, especially as we welcome it constantly in the form of continually connected devices. And while we do our very best to ‘switch off’, it just may be that we’re missing the mark when it comes to really, truly being in the present moment.
Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory on mindfulness, for example, is that diving onto a sun lounger a few times a year does not a relaxing moment make: it’s the times that we allow ourselves to be completely lost in a task or a moment. When ‘the ego’ disappears, when you’re ‘in your groove’, when you check your watch hours later and wonder, ‘where did that time go?’ (And not thanks to a Netflix-drenched Saturday afternoon). But how, with our willingness to explore distraction, can we practically achieve this state?
Here are a few ways we think it might be worth considering in order to grasp the moment and let the past and future blur a little around the edges.
Deal in the tangible
Digitising our world has boosted our affiliation with choice but anyone’s who ever stood in front a wall covered in a dazzling array of colourful Swedish pick’n’mix will know that choice is often the enemy of happiness.
Consider investing in the real and tangible: quit taking a stream of snaps that are never really worthy of a frame. Instead, limit your camera (and phone camera) use to those moments that truly need remembering, then invest in actually making those moments physically available and enjoyable, by bringing your (truly) precious memories to like with a modern photo book company like MILK. That way, you’ll spend less time behind the camera and more in the moment. Similarly, consider the value of something like an old school typewriter, where constant care must be taken when it comes to writing and creating – if you know you can only do something once, you’re much more likely to concentrate on the task at hand.
Stop overthinking things
While this is a classic ‘easier said than done’ example, there can be a clear distinction between thinking deeply and letting thoughts happen.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times,” wrote Mihaly in his wildly popular 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. “The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
While it may seem impossible to stop thinking, consider what happens when you focus not on what your thoughts are, but instead on what is happening around you – this is why art, hiking, running (choose your own adventure) is a tangible path to actually getting out of your own head. You’re way less likely to focus inward when you’re grappling with clay on a potter’s wheel or dropping a stitch in your knitting. Try a short course (like the wide range offered at somewhere like Work Shop) and focus your emotional energy on a tactile task that allows you to funnel deep into something that isn’t your own barrage of thoughts.
Accept things you can’t change
Admit it: there are a few things you can’t help getting worked up about that actually have nothing to do with you. Bus doors slam closed in your face? The universe isn’t out to get you. Shopping bag handles snap on a busy pavement? Relax, you didn’t really have it coming. It only takes a little bit of mental gymnastics to realise that you, like the Earth, aren’t the centre of the universe (although some pretty coincidental setbacks may sometimes feel like it’s only you that’s down on luck). The inimitable David Foster Wallace had some of his own thoughts on this: have a listen.
Meditate – constantly
Not sure where you’ll steal that half an hour a day to meditate? Try looking at it a different way. “The real meditation is how you live your life,” advised Jon, who has created several helpful mindfulness apps based on his work.
Try to consider, non-judgementally, even small moments of your day. The first sip of coffee, the feeling of stepping outside your office at night (and even that time the bus doors slam in your face). Pay attention to both positive and negative moments – after all, these are all present moments you should be living and observing.