Written by Coach Mon Liston
Mindfulness is a practice of being acutely aware of your own experience right here and now, in the moment. It’s making a relationship with our experience as it happens, however unpredictable it may be. It may seem like a new fad for many as you’ll have noticed the idea of being ‘mindful’ has been thrown around a lot in recent years. That’s mainly because it has been adopted by the newest 'wave' of psychotherapies, which is mostly where my own practice is based in. However, mindfulness is a practice with origins in Buddhism from way before our practice of it in today’s society. So I like to be ‘mindful’ of that and pay respect to Buddhism.
Often compared or confused with meditation (and can be achieved through meditation techniques) the practice of mindfulness is not necessarily to make you feel better, but to be better at feeling. We are using a ‘non-judgmental lens’ to observe and get to better know how we’re feeling, thinking and behaving. In this way we’ll be practicing embodied mindfulness. Why embodied? Let’s take a look at anger for example. If we’re talking about being better at feeling, how do you know if you’re angry? You may be hot, elevated heart rate, trembling?
So if we’re cognitively aware of the reasons for anger (eg. that car cut me off) we need to realise that those reasons aren’t the emotion. The emotions are found in sensations of the body. With embodied mindfulness we merge our sensory fields together and our perception of the world becomes unified as it’s coming from within ourselves. This unified perception replaces an ordinary perception of a world of separation. If we think about it, our senses are fundamentally the only way we can know the world (feeling, seeing, hearing). So an acute understanding of what we’re experiencing within ourselves, then gives us this huge insight into what we as individuals are projecting onto what we’re seeing. We all see the world with a different lens. So why not get to know what that lens is.
Here is an exercise to gain an insight into exactly why we place emphasis on using a ‘non-judgmental’ lens. This exercise focuses on thoughts, but can also be useful with other parts of our perception such as feelings or sensations.
Take a moment to think about a negative view or thought about yourself that you may sometimes get caught up in when training or racing. I’ll put myself out on the ledge with an example that I find myself saying sometimes during a race: “your legs aren’t big enough to keep up with those girls on the bike.” Ridiculous right? But never the less I find it creeping in all too often. Write that thought on a piece of paper.
Now I want you to hold the paper with both hands right in front of your nose. Whilst this thought or belief is blocking your view I might be showing you your race plan or an opponent’s race plan. Or maybe here’s your coach on the sidelines ready to give you feedback that can help you achieve the goal you’ve been wanting for this training session or race. These are game changing influences that you can’t see because you’re so stuck on that thought or view of yourself and stuck is a great way of describing these ruts we get ourselves into without noticing. In that state without being aware of it, we’re fused to our thoughts, inseparable even.
Okay, so it’s frustrating having that in your way, and anyway, you think it’s a stupid thing to say to yourself. So I now want you to push the paper (thought or belief) away from you with extended hands. You can see all those influences (during a race or training) I was talking about, a bit better now hey? Still obstructed view, but better than before. What you’re doing now, in essence represents changing your thoughts 'think positive' replace "I’m slow, with I’m the fastest person in this race” or just get rid of them “stop thinking like that”… not very helpful when people say that is it? More often than not, it doesn’t really stop you from thinking that thought.
On top of that, it’s exhausting fighting with your thoughts, if they’re not yet, your arms are going to get pretty sore held out like that right? So, now place the paper on your lap. Don’t worry, you’re not getting rid of it and you can definitely still be aware that it’s there, but it’s no longer blocking your view and you’re not expending energy fighting with it.
This is why in mindfulness, we don’t fight with our thoughts, feelings and senses weather we perceive them to be the truth or not. We welcome them so we can get to know them more. Like I said, it’s not about feeling better; it’s about getting better at feeling. We must learn to accept and allow space for them to be there.
So walking around without being aware of these thoughts, feelings and sensations is allowing them to control us. The part where we’re ‘fused’ to our thoughts (in front of our face so we can’t see what’s around us) we’re experiencing life through this certain projection we’re fused to.
Alternatively, fighting with them or attempting to change them only wastes energy. What if they could still be there in the passenger seat while we’re able to focus on driving towards something we value in life?