words by lizzy keen
Don’t be fooled. While writing this article about mindfulness may lend me a specious air of wisdom, the truth is that being mindful – being wholly conscious in the present – is not yet my forte.
Texting while talking, reading while walking, eating lunch while anticipating dinner. Often in yoga I catch myself – mid-tree pose – crafting a zealous to-do list for that morning. Even on holidays the seams of my circadian schedule threaten to burst with tasks and activities.
Simply, maintaining moment-to-moment consciousness isn’t always easy, especially when many of us seem to be set to the rhythm of eat-sleep-work-repeat. What’s more, it’s hard to discuss the practice of mindfulness without citing today’s presence of technology.
On top of the text-talking and half-focussed yoga, we check-in for sunsets, we upload our suntans, we scroll down and swipe left for stimulus. No hike, surf or swim goes uncaptured. I mean, we wouldn’t dare drink our morning coffee without telling our followers first, right?
But while we’d like to blame the selfie-stick for our digital demise, according to the experts on mindfulness, realising the impact that this ancient-come-new age practice has on our health and happiness, is up to the individual.
Renowned author Eckhart Tolle delves at length into the relationship between stillness and mindfulness in his book, Stillness Speaks, in which he defines stillness as human beings’ essential nature that “will save and transform the world”. Stillness, he says, is peace.
Tell someone wedged deep in the frenetic nine-to-five grind for the sake of promotion that they should embrace their inner stillness and you’ll likely be met with scoffs. But Tolle explains that finding the stillness within doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job and joining an ashram.
Simply observing the stillness in nature – let’s say, the gnarled trunk of a backyard eucalypt or the silky surface of a lake – we can learn to block out external noise, absorb its stillness and experience a certain ‘oneness’ not unlike true love.
Try posting that on the ‘Gram.
We can take another step into mindfulness through Tolle’s concept of the Now, “the premise of life itself” and the only constant in our lives. Past and present, he explains, are man-made constructs; the past is a memory of the Now, the future will arrive as the Now. We can only live right now.
In the teeth of financial worries and deadlines, working too much and being paid too little, have you found yourself living for the weekend? When planning a holiday, do you curse the weeks between home and away? Do you yearn for the future?
It’s not worth your energy, says Tolle, because “Now is the only thing you can never escape from”. If we cannot immediately change our situation, why not acknowledge it for what it is? “A simple but radical spiritual practice is to accept whatever arises in the Now – with or without.”
Similarly, Professor of Medicine emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, argues that we must allow ourselves to experience the negative moments, because we’re having them anyway!
“Why rush through some moments to get the other, “better” ones?” he says. “After all, each one is your life in that moment.” Sure, Mondayitis is tough and the rent is still due, but are they worth the angry status update? If we slow down, step away from the touch screen and breathe, we might just hear the melodic bird song just outside the office window.
Finding your inner stillness is not a practice reserved for yogis and crystal enthusiasts in the heights of the Himalayas. It happens here, with you, at grassroots. Admiring the shades of a sunset, marvelling the intricacy of a fallen leaf, listening to others with our eyes and ears – this is mindfulness.
All it takes, as Tolle says, is enjoying the Now with an open heart and accepting whatever it brings – with selfie-stick or without.