By Joanna van der Hoeven
Why not dedicate an entire day to mindfulness each week? Ideally, we try to be mindful all the time, but we’re not perfect. Having an entire day to focus on mindfulness will hopefully trickle down into everything we do in the rest of the week: all our thoughts, actions and their consequences. I’ve deemed this my Mindful Mondays in my own practice.
So, what does this all mean? It means that when we’re eating breakfast, we’re just eating breakfast, not reading a book or article. When we’re washing the dishes, we’re just washing the dishes and not singing along to the our favourite album. When we’re out walking, we are walking mindfully, at whatever speed, paying attention to our steps and our surroundings, not planning our evening meal. When we’re stroking the cat, we’re not thinking about writing the next chapter of our book. When we’re driving we’re really feeling the road beneath us, not dwelling on the driver who decided to overtake us on a blind summit. When we’re out for a meal with friends, we’re really paying attention to what they are saying, and not already forming a reply to their words before they’ve even finished talking.
Mindful Mondays are all about paying attention.
With centred awareness, with that focus, we can simplify our lives immensely. People often fear that we will be less productive, because we seem to be doing less, but actually we will do jobs better, more efficiently, if we maintain that focus.
Mindfulness of the body is a great gift you can give to yourself. Being aware of your movements is doing a great kindness to your body. When we are walking down the stairs, we are focusing on our body moving. We will find that our movements may become less hurried and more graceful. Calm descends on our way of being. We have fewer accidents, and fewer resulting lumps and bumps. Like a leaf falling from the tree, we simply are in that moment, moving as the wind suggests, awake to every moment.
So, like the monk who realised that life doesn’t change after enlightenment and that you still have to do the things you have to do, what you can change is how you do them: mindfully, with awareness, focus and concentration. Even if a day is too much, try an hour or half an hour each day. Eat a meal in mindfulness. Clean the bathroom in mindfulness. Play with the children in mindfulness. You don’t have to change your schedule, just do everything in it mindfully.
Being comfortable in the present moment is key to finding lasting happiness. Awareness of the past serves only as a guide to the present moment, helping us to release many things that can have a negative effect on the present moment such as anger, grief, fear or hate. Knowing that the future is only a flexible plan helps us to not get too stuck in our ways and habits, and can also alleviate feelings such as fear. Our focus should always been on the here and now, living life fully.
But what if the ‘now’ isn’t all that great? What if in the ‘now’ we are stuck outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella or coat, waiting for a bus that never turns up? Yes, that’s all part of it. Buddhism teaches in the first noble truth that all beings suffer. You can’t escape it. That might sound pretty pessimistic, but the upside is that the other noble truths help us to alleviate that suffering. One of the ways to do so is to fully be in your self, in your body and mind (there is no separation) and in doing so the suffering eases. That doesn’t mean you won’t get soaked to your underwear, but instead you spent the time feeling the rain upon your body, smelling the earth responding to the rain and smiling to your own heart rather than becoming angry at the bus driver, becoming grumpy about the wetness, or wondering why this sort of thing always happens to you.
For some people who are living in extreme conditions, in the middle of a war zone for instance, the above may sound trite. However, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh experienced the horrors of war first hand and learned how to be in the present moment, to help alleviate the suffering. (See The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.) When we are in the present moment we will know how to respond to any situation better than if we are responding from the past or future. Our clarity sharpens and we respond in a manner that is wholly and utterly relevant to the situation at hand rather than dredging up issues from the past or worries about the future.
We all have had to deal with uncomfortable situations and difficult people. Being in the present helps us to not dredge up the past and project it onto a particular situation in negative ways, rather it enables us to deal with the issues as they are, up front without any extra baggage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we enjoy dealing with this sort of stuff, but we can get through it with a lighter heart, finding our peace more quickly and being able to spread that out to the world. It helps us to see reality, as it really is. Eventually you may find that your inner peace becomes less and less disturbed, no matter what life throws at you, and that peace and calm will radiate out into the world in beautiful and positive ways.
Remember the old saying, ‘Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.’
Things to do and try:
- Try a Mindful Monday, or spend a half-day, a couple of hours, in total mindfulness. You can begin with even smaller tasks, and build up to a half-day, then a full day of mindfulness. Wash the dishes in mindfulness. Fold the laundry in mindfulness. Ride the bus in mindfulness.
- Find things around you that can help you to remember mindfulness. Look at the sky to remind you of the beauty around you. When you hear the chime of a clock, stop and breathe, being utterly aware and present in the moment.
About the author: Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, author and teacher. She has written several books on Druidry including the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid (Moon Books, 2014), as well as countless articles for Pagan magazines and websites, and spoken at conferences, fairs, festivals and more. Joanna is the co-founder of Druid College UK, which offers a three-year training programme, and she is also the director of her own dance company.
Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature is published by Moon Books, ISBN: 978-1-78535-442-7 (Paperback) £8.99 $14.95.