Mindfulness is an essential practice for personal growth. If you don't understand your experience, you can't work with it. If you can't see your experience, you can't understand it.
Trying to grow as a person without practising mindfulness would be like trying to create beautiful hand-crafted furniture without knowing how to work with wood.
Personal growth is the path of becoming an artisan of your own mind, your own experience. So we have to get to know it, and that's where mindfulness is essential.
Mindfulness is nothing complex. It's deliberately paying attention and bringing an attitude of curiosity and acceptance to whatever you find.
Like the carpenter who finds that there are knots in certain types of wood, when we come across difficult parts of our experience, there's no point getting angry or judgmental about it, we've got to accept what's there is there, for now at least, and experiment curiously so that we become proficient at working with it.
In order to pay this kind of attention though, we need to slow down - to free up some of our attentional bandwidth. We can only take in so much data from the world in any given second or minute. And if we constantly jam pack the seconds and minutes of our day, we simply can't pay attention to this moment in detail.
The tools below are all FREE to download and will help you slow down and pay better attention. (Click on links in blue.)
PAR card - join People Against Rushing by practicing the intention to slow down and take more notice of your life. This free tool gives you three essential reminders to be more mindful and even offers you your own PAR card.
What Am I Feeling? - being able to name our feelings is immensely helpful in lots of settings: for communicating well in conflict, for managing stress and overwhelm and for practising mindfulness generally in your day to day life.
People Against Rushing is a virtual organisation. Ok, it's actually an imaginary organisation. It exists in the minds of its members - and you'd be surprised how many have already joined!
Its purpose is to encourage you to slow down, to notice your life, to inhabit it, and to create the space for you to be present. There are side effects. You'll be less stressed!
The only criterion for membership is that you have a genuine desire to do these things.
If you decide to join, you've joined. And from now on, all you have to do, is make the following three choices whenever you can:
20% time buffer
The practice: multiply your anticipated travel time by 1.2
Hurrying causes stress. It's also difficult to be mindful when we are in a rush. We ask Google how long it will take us to get somewhere, it says 17 minutes. We leave with 15 minutes to spare. You see? The traffic is worse than usual, so stress starts to rise. We arrive late, we have no time to connect with people, we worry that they are unhappy with us for being late, our minds are racing and our bodies are in stress mode, releasing hormones as if we were under threat.
This practice is designed to increase the calm and presence in your life by avoiding all of this. If you're habitually late, ask yourself why. Do you have an aversion to being early? Or are you uncomfortable with 'nothing time'. If so, get curious about that. Explore it. Experiment with this and take careful notice of the impact.
blank spaces in the diary
The practice: plan some 'nothing time' in your diary
Packing our diaries full is a recipe for stress and mindlessness. We have no time to process the experiences which are our life. We can't ground ourselves to be fully present for our next commitment. There's no space for our creativity to emerge. There's no time for pattern recognition - the basis for wisdom. We forget things and hurry past people, sending the message that everything else is more important than them.
This practice involves both little and big spaces. The little spaces are the blanks in your diary between appointments. They might be as little as five or ten minutes. A blank space in the diary is time when nothing is planned and your mind can roam. Time for you to simply stop doing and 'be' for a bit. You might be at the bus stop early (because of your 20% buffer), leave your phone in your bag, and you sit there and take in your surroundings. Notice the people around you, the landscape, the temperature of the air.
The big spaces might only be as often as once a week if that's all you can manage, but they are an hour or more where you choose to do nothing demanding. That might be sitting on your back deck with a cup of coffee, enjoying the local birds. It might be taking a long bath, going for a leisurely walk or sitting at the beach.
The goal is a significant chunk of time where you can simply be present to where you are, and allow your mind some down time - some time off from the constant processing of intense input. Nothing time is time alone (or at least without any beings who talk to us!). It allows us to hear ourselves. To tune in to where we are in life or even just this moment.
Travel time only counts if you're not distracted (e.g. by driving, conversation, music, podcasts, any engaging external stimulation). Chores and screen time don't count.
be where I am
The practice: take notice of this moment
All that exists is this moment, right now. Sure, we can allow our minds to spend this moment on memories of the past, or imaginings of the future, and sometimes that's helpful. But that is simply spending our attention this moment, on mind activity - either remembering or imagining. The problem is, we spend so much of our attention on these things that we forget to pay attention to our experience right now.
This practice dovetails with the first two. It's the go-to practice for any moments of non-doing that might arise because of our buffer time, or our blank diary spaces. In fact it's a super helpful practice for moments inside our doing too.
The practice is simply to pay attention through our senses to both our outer world and our inner world. Some simple guidelines to help you take notice:
OUTER WORLD: what is present now through each of my senses? Sights, sounds, smells, felt sensations in the body, and taste?
INNER WORLD: what is present right now in my mind? In my emotions? In my body?
Becoming a member of PAR is free, all you need to do is decide to join. Falling off the wagon on any of these practices is okay. Just jump back on and start again. You can print out the card above as a useful reminder, by clicking below to download it.
Naming our feelings might sound like a basic thing but it's both powerful and sometimes tricky.
On its own, simply identifying our feelings clearly can itself dial down their intensity and the stress you feel, bringing a sense of calm.
Feelings are meant to move us to action because our mind has decided something needs our attention. Focusing on and accurately naming the feelings present can often relieve our minds of the need to keep nagging us for attention. It can be incredibly helpful immediately!
But there are many more benefits than just this. A big one is to be able to describe our feelings 'cleanly' - that is without embedding judgments in them. This has a powerful positive impact on conflict.
For example a friend might have done something that you interpret as belittling. If you say 'I feel belittled' it creates two problems. First, you're creating an accusation in your statement, so your friend can't open her heart to you without accepting a criticism at the same time, and we all know how hard that is to do.
The second problem is that you're not actually naming the feeling. 'Belittled' isn't actually a feeling at all, it's an interpretation or assessment of an event. So if we stop there and don't get to the feeling itself, we miss out on the powerful effect of truly recognising our emotions.
If instead you say 'I feel hurt and disconnected from you' that's much more powerful. Firstly because your own mind can relax as you've recognised what's going on. And secondly because your friend, who loves you, can immediately open her heart and express sorrow at what happened because she doesn't have to swallow a criticism before doing that. We feel closer and more connected.
Can you see the power in this?
Several of the Flourish tools involve identifying what you're feeling, so this handy little download is a great help to have on hand if you're planning to use them. And if you do the Flourishing Life Blueprint online program you'll need to download it too, as this program includes and uses all of the Flourish tools.
Even if you do none of our programs, it can be immensely helpful. So give it a go and let us know how it goes.