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Day 4: Mindfulness

After all the preparatory things we are now starting in earnest the bootcamp… with a day dedicated to discovering mindfulness, why it is useful – and what is the difference between the “normal” state of mind, where we are not mindful, and a mindful moment.

To try the difference between a mindful and “normal moment” out, just try this simple exercise:
Set a timer for three minutes. Now sit down for these three minutes in a quiet room. Just sit quietly. Don’t talk. Keep your eyes open or closed, whatever you feel comfortable with. Simply stop reading now – and try it before continuing.

Well done on completing your first activity! How was it? What happened to your mind while you were sitting there?
Now if you are like the majority of people, you will have noticed that your mind wandered. You may have asked yourself what is the point of this. Maybe you thought of something nice that happened yesterday. Or on what you will do tonight.
No matter where your mind wandered off to, your mind probably was somewhere else then with you, where you were sitting. One could say, you were sitting there, while your mind was some place else.

This is, of course, often what happens in everyday life: we do things, but our mind is somewhere else. In fact, most people’s mind is very well trained in “wandering off”, that often we perform many things without “being there”: think about how you brushed your teeth the last time. What did you feel? You were probably on “auto pilot”, thinking of the day ahead, the night ahead or the bathroom wall that needs fixing…

Naturally this isn’t always a bad thing. After all, many things that we do are best done on auto pilot… they are not really interesting. But there is a problem with this: the problem is that the mind learns, constantly, to escape the present moment. Unfortunately, the mind is so good at doing that, that it starts to escape also when we are living through a moment that really would be much better if we would focus on it. But with an untrained mind, there is a big danger that your mind simply wanders off. Similarly, there are many moments where it seems perfectly fine to have the mind wander off. Maybe focus on the result we are hoping to achieve, rather than on what we are currently doing. Sometimes though, when we receive the result, we realise that we missed out on savouring the way we got there, and that actually the way was the good thing – and the result appears to be an anti-climax. Think of running for a long time: often the advice is to focus on the finishing line. How you will feel when you have completed the run. And that is good advise. It works for many people. However, while imagining the finishing line, you are running the danger of not noticing the small things around you, the feeling of your feet, the wind, the sights, sounds and smell of your run. That is to say: if you focus on the finish line, you imagine how you reach there, you are taking your mind away from the current experience – and you are in danger of only remembering “the big things” that drew your attention during the run.

During an endurance race, that can, of course be good advice. But what about going through life on that advice? It means you are at least in danger of missing out a lot of the moments of life: the sun on your skin, the smell of fresh coffee, feeling of waking up next to someone you love… many small details, that will be hard to “recall” – because they just happen so often, that unless prompted we often fail to even realise them.

I hope this makes the idea of mindfulness a bit clearer: basically, the idea of mindfulness is to bring your mind back to the present. To be aware what is happening right now, look at it without judging, just focusing on what you are feeling. To come back to the first exercise, if you performed the exercise with perfect mindfulness, you may have realised the feeling of the place you are sitting on. The feeling in your feet, the stretch in your back. Maybe you would have observed a faint noise in the background. The smell of the flowers next to you. In other words, in a mindful state, your mind would savoured every small detail of what was happening.

Now that we have worked out the difference between a mindful moment – and a “doing” state where we are doing something without paying full attention (which we could really call simply mindless, as the mind is not in the moment) I hope you are ready for your second exercise of the day. Don’t worry… it won’t take much time:

As a second exercise, pick something you do on “auto-pilot”: brushing your teeth, making coffee, whatever… any activity you normally do without much attention. But today, try to pay attention to what you are doing. Observe each feeling, emotion, smell, sound – all that is happening. Don’t worry if your mind wanders off a bit, but do try to bring it back when you realise it is going somewhere else.

Once you have completed the exercise, why not share how it felt. How did it feel different from “just” doing the coffee, brushing the teeth etc? It would be great to hear from you! Why not leave a comment below, or use the #ug30bc if you use Twitter. See you tomorrow!

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Lars
Guest

Hello Stephan. Really liked your definition and exercises around mindfullness. What immediately occurred to me was that all too often during sex, I’m just totally focused on reaching the climax, rather than enjoying every second of it. I guess it’s because the pleasure of orgasm is so great that I want to get their immediately, or of being scared of perhaps losing my excitement, before reaching ejaculation…..

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