There’s a lot of wonderfully eye-opening mindfulness literature and scholarship, but reading it can’t quite equip you to swiftly commence a thoroughly operational mindfulness practice. Taking in-the-flesh guidance from someone well versed in the actualisation of mindfulness is a far more effective way of kicking things off.
It’s similar to taking up the guitar, for example. You could read about scales and chord sequences, fret boards and tune-o-matic bridges all you like, but only when someone shows you a few simple riffs will your playing aptitude start to advance.
Happy’s one-day mindfulness training course adequately served this purpose. It’s not exhaustive – you don’t leave a glimmering embodiment of the Little Book of Calm – but it offers a significant lift into the nurturing and abundant world of mindfulness. Plus, unlike playing a musical instrument, you don’t need any tools other than thoughts, feelings and bodily awareness.
Here are five key takeaways from the day:
Emotions are like a snow globe.
When something unpleasant occurs, or when experiencing heightened stress, our emotions become like a giant snow globe that’s just been shaken up. We can’t force calm upon ourselves, and yet this is how many of us try to handle such moments. So when this proves unsuccessful – which it invariably will, at least in terms of finding resolve – we tend to unfairly judge and criticise ourselves and become snappy with others.
To witness the futility of trying to immediately solve distress, shake a snow globe and notice the ineffectiveness of your efforts to forcibly return the snow to the bottom.
We regularly function on autopilot.
After playing a song on the guitar hundreds of times, you can strum through it without really noticing what you’re doing. It’s not uncommon for the thoughts of a seasoned performer to be a million miles from the details of the performance that’s taking place.
Likewise, many of us move through our daily tasks with very little present awareness. And if our actions are largely automatic, then our reactions are going to be much the same. This paints us into a corner of repetitive thinking, where recurring problems have little chance of being solved.
Pay attention. Don’t judge.
A constructive and compassionate response to distressing events involves giving attention to the feelings provoked and waiting to see what can be learnt from them. This requires patience and a non-judgemental attitude towards emotions.
Rather than analysing and diagnosing ourselves, we’ll gain more from sitting with the feelings and being aware of any changes and developments. This way we can make a choice about what to do next that isn’t automatic and irrational. Chances are the chosen course of action will be more practical and creative than our routine response would have been.
Thoughts are not facts.
We spend most of our time occupied by a bevvy of competing thoughts, and some of them have a major influence on our state of mind and behaviour. But our thoughts aren’t definitive: they don’t represent the truth, nor do they represent our authentic selves.
Thoughts are often volatile and seductive, but we don’t need to be forever at their mercy. Mindfulness furnishes the capacity to observe our thoughts without getting consumed by them. Next time you find yourself caught in a destructive thought pattern, simply remind yourself that “thoughts are not facts.” It’s an apt mantra for removing us from the cycle of judgement and criticism.
Mindfulness can be implemented anytime, anywhere.
In the middle of a busy commute, you can bring your attention to where your thoughts are, how you’re feeling, and what sensations are running around in your body. Calling on mindfulness – by using one’s breath as an anchor – allows us to expand the range of choices we make and actions we implement every day.