When it comes to freeing the mind it turns out that mindfulness holds a whole host of answers, and you don’t need to be a Zen Master to unlock solutions to life’s worries, says this new book...
1. Embrace Uncertainty To Free Your Mind In our fast-paced, insecure world it’s tempting to latch onto certainties like rocks in a shipwreck. But rocks are not that hospitable, suggests The Easy Way To Mindfulness. ‘We have a desire for certainty, which leads us to imagine things as fixed, permanent conditions that cannot and will not be changed. Mindfulness helps us to see the true picture: that everything in life is constantly changing… therefore everything can be changed for the better.’ The book’s co-author (and therapist) John Dicey recommends spending more time paying mindful attention to the sensations in your body. This way you’ll recognise when fixed and limiting mental ideas cause you actual stress, and by becoming aware of this you will become more able to let them go.
The alternative to doing is being – that keeps you in touch with experience
2. Enjoy Just Doing Nothing For A Change Everyday life used to be much more boring. Before the smartphone every walk to the shops, trip on the bus or wait at the dentists was filled by just experiencing your environment, or thinking idle thoughts. Now we have our whole social, work and wider worlds in our pockets. This is brilliant but for Dicey it’s also rubbish because we’ve become obsessed with ‘doing’. ‘The alternative to doing is being. Being sees a different aspect of the brain at work – the sensory part that keeps you in touch with experience,’ the book says. ‘Mindfulness develops this faculty, closing the void between thinking and sensing, and removing the tension that arises when that void opens up.’
3. RELENT To Kill Resentment We all like to have friends and being sociable has been shown to guard against depression. But we’re all human too and our friends can annoy us in unpredictable ways, making us less sociable, defeating our better natures and causing us to fall out with them. Dicey recommends a mindful exercise to help us block resentment when we feel it bubbling up: ‘Just remember the world RELENT: Recognise – accept that you’re bearing a grudge. Empathise – try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Let go – of the desire for retribution. Enjoy – the thought of a life free from bitterness. Name – practise naming the other person with a feeling of happiness. Talk – get back on speaking terms as soon as you can.’
When we allow our thoughts to override genuine experience, our minds wander into anxiety
4. How To Face Your Fears Anxiety in modern life can be crippling because it often reflects a fear of what might happen, rather than a clear and present danger, which makes it hard to resolve. ‘When we allow our thoughts to override genuine experience, our minds wander into anxiety. We create worst-case scenarios, which then make us anxious,’ says Dicey, who recommends practising mindfulness to retake control of your fear response.
‘Imagine your thoughts as boats going by on a river. Every so often a boat snags you and drags you into the water, making you gasp for breath as you’re towed along. You have to unhook yourself, get back to the riverbank and observe the boats going by at a safe distance. The practice of mindfulness enables you to observe your thoughts and worries without being snagged by them.’
5. Forget About Exercising Willpower As the creator of The Easy Way To Give Up Smoking Carr had an interesting view on willpower. The book describes trying to exercise it to resist a bad habit as counterproductive, because it reinforces the idea that you are ‘sacrificing’ something by not doing something harmful to you. ‘People who try to quit with the willpower method endure a constant conflict of will, a mental tug of war.’ The book extends this to facing down other mental demons in the pursuit of happiness. ‘Willpower is designed for survival not happiness. If you need to climb a tree to evade a predator then willpower is invaluable. But when you use willpower to tackle imaginary threats, all you’re doing is pushing hard on the wrong side of the door.’
6. Reconnect With Your Body It’s easy to think we’re all totally in sync with our bodies – they’re us after all! But like a lot of mindfulness experts, Dicey recommends spending time really tuning into the physical sensation of being alive. Something as simple as walking can be totally mindful if you do it right. ‘Walking takes the mind into a deeper sensory space where the distractions of thought are replaced with a more focussed, creative mental process.’
He recommends walking as straight and tall as you can and noticing how nimble or stiff you feel, how your posture is, then settling into a steady rhythm. Then, as you walk spend 30 seconds paying attention to everything around you; then turn your attention to sounds for 30 seconds, be aware and tune into them without thinking too much about where they are coming from; then spend 30 seconds noticing on the physical sensations of using your muscles, of warm or cold air, of the wind. Finally allow your focus to turn to whatever sensations you like – you should be highly aware of what’s going on around you without getting wrapped up in any single thing, he says.
7. Mindfulness Requires No Special Powers You don’t have to be a Zen Master on the magic mountain to benefit from mindfulness. In fact it isn’t a special skill at all, just something in us all that’s there to be unlocked. By doing mindful exercises we become more familiar with our thoughts and gain a new sense of perspective. ‘With mindfulness you’re not suppressing anything. You’re learning to do the opposite, to free your feelings both positive and negative, so that they are not suppressed or exaggerated,’ says Dicey.
WHAT NEXT? To become more mindfully resilient, Dicey recommends this simple breathing exercise in times of everyday anxiety. ‘Taking deep, steady breaths slows your heart rate and activates the boy’s transitions between ‘fight or flight’ back to its calm state known as ‘rest or digest’… Make the ‘out’ breath longer than the ‘in’, so breath in for a count of two and out for a count of three – this is a wonderful to relieve fear, anxiety and stress.’ Try it now and see how it affects your mindset...
Comments are is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations.
The Easy Way To Mindfulness is available from Amazon
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