Being mindful is hard. For a long time, I thought all I had to do was simply pay attention to the moment – whether it was a nice moment or an uncomfortable moment — and that was enough; I was being ‘mindful’. But after a very long time doing this all I seemed to achieve was the ability to briefly notice the moment before my mind leapt off to the usual concerns about something or other. I found this frustrating – wasn’t mindfulness supposed to help me feel calmer?
I’m a thinker (I always have been) which manifests as a high level of mental activity most of the time. This is great when researching or thinking about something new and exciting but not so good when the mental ‘chatter’ feels unorganised and lacks purpose.
So, way back it seemed meditation would be the answer, and it was (it still is, in many ways), so long as I make time to sit and meditate regularly, or to practise a moving meditation. I became good at focussing my attention intentionally, but I also really wanted to develop a mindfulness practise because the concept resonated with me.
I liked the idea that, rather than sitting, all I needed to do was bring my attention to the ‘present’ and I could spend more time in the here and now rather than off in a future world of ‘what could be’, or back dwelling upon ‘what was’. So, over time I practised and eventually became very good at being mentally ‘here’ for a split second (if that) then off my mind would go again. Not quite what I was after.
When speaking to others it seems this is a common challenge. No matter how mindful you are trying to be, the impact can be fleeting. What I was after was a difference in my sense of contentment regarding ‘all that is’ right now — to create a sense of peace at times other than when intentionally meditating. I was looking for a more peaceful existence (aren’t we all?).
But then I had one of those ‘aha’ moments — I suddenly got it. It’s so simple and, annoyingly, I already knew it but had forgotten (that damn ‘monkey mind’ again). The key to being mindful and feeling those moments of calm is simply to savour the experience.
So, what does ‘savouring’ mean exactly?
It’s less about you thinking “I am aware of my current moment” and instead, engaging all the senses including the body-felt sense. Your mind is still involved — it needs to be as you are acknowledging what you can see, feel, smell, hear and taste (whatever is relevant to the moment) — to really savour it all for as long as possible. Why does this work? Because tuning into each sense keeps your attention in the moment, in the experience, and not thinking about the shopping, getting to work, your current self-isolation, whatever else may be occurring and taking your attention away from the actual here and now.
For me, the ‘aha’ moment was the feeling of the sun on my face that caught my attention and kept it there. As I registered the skin sensation, I also took note of the fact I could hear a song I liked, my eyes were squinting a bit in the bright light, I had a vague sense of hunger in my body, I was walking slowly and, as I kept my awareness primarily on the sensation of warm skin, I was fully in my experience and (perhaps more importantly) I was aware that I was.
Without any intention of doing so, I found myself smiling and feeling nothing but the experience of walking, listening to some music, feeling my warm skin, blinking against the bright sunlight, and being aware of my hunger. In its own way, it was truly peaceful as I was fully in the here and now. I was savouring the moments.
Some of you may remember the ‘raisin’
One of the first mindful exercises ever taught to those seeking to learn involves you very, very slowly eating a raisin — it’s about savouring every element of the experience and I recall it well, now. Yet somewhere between that lesson so many years ago and my abovementioned ‘aha’ moment ‘mindfulness’ had turned into something else for me and I had forgotten the need to savour and engage with my senses.
The key to calm is surprisingly sensory
Now I am savouring a lot more because it is a key to being present and calm. All you need do is engage your senses. For example, just now I paused whilst I was writing and simply noted what is — my coffee is warm and slightly bitter, the sun is coming through the window and lighting up the leaves of my plant, a man is working outside, I have slight muscle aches from my yoga practise, my skin is cool, I hear a washing machine on spin.
I was not attached to any of those things, nor thinking about ‘getting back to writing’ or doing some work — simply noticing the sensory input and savouring, in particular, the feel of the coffee in my mouth and the tastes that I was registering. That is being mindfully present in the experience and I am aware that I felt calm and peaceful for a short while.
If you, like me, have a tendency to be a thinker — either reviewing what has already been and gone, or spending too much time in some possible future (maybe even worrying about a future that hasn’t even happened); I’m not saying you cannot plan ahead, nor reflect on something past, I’m simply noting that a sense of calm is to be had in the here and now and feeling calm is a worthy pursuit.
The key concept here (I’d go so far as to say it’s the ultimate mindful hack) is to practise savouring the moments — because with that brings a good chance you will notice an accompanying sense of calm. Simply because, for those few (or many) moments, your mind will have nowhere else to be.