Practical Mindfulness

One of the challenges with mindfulness, like any well-being activity, is finding the time and sustaining the motivation to practice regularly. Whether exercise, a hobby, or mindfulness practice finding the time in a busy day to dedicate to ourselves can at times feel impossible.

I started meditating 20 years ago and practising mindfulness in 2008. At the time having a lot less responsibility at work and home I found making the time to meditate easier and less in the way of committing to a daily sit. However, as time has gone on, it has become increasingly hard to sustain a daily practice. The most frustrating thing about this is that I know it is good for me, so why can’t I prioritise and stick to it when so many more mundane and less helpful tasks fill my day. I have tried many tricks to try and stick to a regular mindfulness practice (new apps, a timetable, making time in my work diary, attending online classes, focusing on my intention and the positive outcome), but none of this has really stuck.

I was beginning to despair until I discussed this with a colleague who also had an ongoing mindfulness practice and taught mindfulness to children who admitted having the same experience. Almost instantly, many feelings I had (guilt, frustration and failure) evaporated. We discussed our experience of the same ongoing challenge; how do we sustain a regular practice when internal motivation and external factors are so inhibitive? It was also good to hear from someone who was not attempting to project an image of a perfect, enlightened mindfulness practitioner. Many people in the media project this image, and it is not a helpful or an authentic experience of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about awareness, forgiveness and compassion towards self and others. It requires failure at the level of day to day practice and even developing the intention to practice. Perfection is not required and cannot be reached. It is an ongoing process.

My struggles got me thinking about how we teach mindfulness to adults and children. Often the focus seems to be on the sitting down-closed eyes practice, but perhaps I’m afraid that’s not right. We should be giving equal time and maybe more focus with children on the benefits of how we can be mindful in our everyday lives. I have taught mindfulness to children and young people for many years. Often, the practices that are picked up and used are the ones that can easily be transferred into their busy lives without the necessity for carving out dedicated time. For younger children, sustained meditation style practice can be hugely beneficial but difficult to achieve in large groups or regularly. My two eldest children, who are 4 and 6, find it very difficult to engage in the many different ‘sit down’ meditation practices we have tried via websites, CDs and apps. We have had success at bedtime and in the car when they are more settled (sometimes!).

I have always found what I call the more ‘practical elements’ of mindfulness much easier to commit to and just as enriching as the sitting mediation practices. Mindful movement or walking I have found easy to integrate into my daily commute or walk around the block. I have found great joy in practising mindful listening during a rainstorm or focusing on sensations during regular tasks such as washing up or cooking. Closing my eyes, noticing the smell of cut grass as we walk through a nature reserve. Taking the time to eat with a greater awareness of the flavours and textures of my food. These small moments of mindfulness throughout the day help bring many of the benefits that a sitting practice can offer. We can switch them on and off when we want to without having to carve out space in our day. This has also been my experience case with my children and the children and young people I have taught. Often it is the opportunity to pause on a walk listening to unique sounds, focusing on touch while doing a craft activity or savouring the taste of a favourite food at mealtimes that have led to the greatest engagement and potential positive impact.

The practical elements of mindfulness, is an important area to explore especially for children and young people. I am acutely aware that my children pick up habits from adults of just being busy and doing all the time. Sharing with them the art of practising mindfulness has been easier as we each learn the benefit of slowing down, broadening our awareness and calming minds wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Some great ideas for practical mindfulness and many other activities for children can be found on the Educating the Heart website.

Compassion Matters is an education project from the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion, registered charity no.1164491.