Luckily, Switzerland has so far escaped the polar vortex of the Americas. Even so, the Suisse Romande had a fresh snowfall last night which, for this native Floridian, never fails to excite and inspire.
For the next few weekends, I will endeavor to suggest an exercise with which you can practice being mindful. I am hopeful that these exercises will demonstrate the great breadth of practice opportunities while inspiring you to play with how being mindful can bring new life to automatic activities.
Thanks to the new snow, why not try mindful walking in the snow? When approaching this, see if you can find some new aspect of this movement upon which you can let your attention rest. For instance, the sound of your footsteps or the feeling in your muscles when they work to stabilize your body or the way your arms swing along. Perhaps you can even break down your steps into three distinct parts: Lift, place, shift. Vary your pace and see how the differences feel in your body and against the rhythm of your breath.
When your mind wanders (and it will), gently escort it back to the sensations of the walk. And if some part of the experience feels particularly vibrant, try using it as an anchor to bring you back into the moment. For those lucky folks in warmer climates, try it with sand.
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a mindful weekend.
It is true that being mindful invites you to check into your awareness, to gently notice what is happening in your body and mind. When we talk about mindfulness, we spend a lot of time noticing aspects of ourselves: from the breath, to body sensations, to thoughts. But just as mindfulness helps you to turn inward, it can also help you to turn outward and to connect more deeply and intimately with the world around you.
We humans are programmed to be social. Not so many generations ago, our survival depended on the connections we made to the people around us and the networks of support we formed. From our first days after birth, we seek human contact to sustain us. And not much changes as we age. Of course there are individual differences in our characters that influence the personal value and meaning of social connection but at the core, we all seek to find meaning through our friendships and family lives.
Mindfulness can powerfully shape the quality of relationships we have in a given moment. Listening mindfully- without judgment and in the present moment- can open up a new level of conversational connection. So often in talking with others, we are already shaping our responses, planning our next verbal move, impatient to have our voices heard, add our two cents and be recognized by the other. Totally normal but this way of conversing may not leave room for really being with that person in that moment.
And sometimes, these moments of connection can uplift us. When we feel heard, we feel valued. We feel a sense of belonging that comes from sharing vulnerability. When we speak (or blog for that matter), we have just risked sharing a part of ourselves (how we feel or what we think) with another person. And listening – really and truly listening- is as active a process as speaking.
Being mindful is not about shutting out the rest of the world to focus only on yourself. Mindfulness means being fully present in any moment- whether it is at work, on the bus, arguing with your partner, or sitting on your meditation cushion. And since we humans are surrounded by other humans most other moments of our busy lives, it can be useful to see how intentionally tuning in can influence relationships. You may find some delightful surprises.
In Switzerland, we all have had those days when it is breathtakingly, this-just-can’t-be-real beautiful. There is a full blue sky, framed by the mountains and usually some body of water that makes the view eerily reminiscent of a postcard or scenic calendar. And, on days like that, it is easy to connect to the moment- to exist in a moment of absolute appreciation for the world around you.
But, as in our emotional lives, it becomes more challenging to be mindful and intentionally move our attention to our experience when the blue sky is clouded. It doesn’t come as easily to check in with what’s going on right here, right now when what you’re noticing is… cloudy. Or, downright uncomfortable.
However, the more we practice moving the spotlight of our attention to our internal experience- whatever weather conditions may be present- the more information we can gather about how to effectively respond. When we take time to really look at that cloudy sky, perhaps we will decide to take our umbrella when we go outside, or stay home and take a warm bath. Or perhaps we will notice that the clouds are not as dark and ominous as we thought.
Like the flow of the weather, many of our thoughts, feelings, and body reactions are transient. Getting to know the patterns of our behavior, minds and bodies can help us to cultivate self-compassion and enhance our ability to problem-solve. Mindful awareness provides the opportunity for you to find spaciousness between you and your internal storms, and thus to respond more effectively rather than automatically. With practice and patience, making it a habit to check-in with yourself can eventually become as routine and informative as checking the weather.