There’s a lot of talk these days about mindfulness – there are books on it, Ted Talks on it, even crystals dedicated to cultivating it. So what is mindfulness exactly, and why should we care?
According to mindful.org, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing. Pretty simple definition. So why is it so tough to do? Why do we even need posts like this to explain it?
Personally, I think it has to do with a couple key things: culture and technology, in that order.
In North America, we have a culture of Go, Go, Go. It’s always a question of “how much more can you get done?” This drive to constantly do more has been so deeply ingrained in our culture that we begin to learn this philosophy at a very young age. How many parents have you spoken to that have their kid in piano lessons, swimming lessons, skating lessons, soccer, martial arts, and language? The poor kid has a schedule that is as busy as his or her parents, and that’s no coincidence. It’s culture.
Technology comes second because all it does is enable the existing culture to be even more prevalent. Oh, you can access work email on your phone now? Great, then you won’t mind answering work emails at 9pm or while on vacation. What’s that? You say you have personal assistants at home to simplify the grocery ordering process? Excellent, more time for you to spend hurriedly doing something else!
If we’re going to try and be more mindful, this vicious circle needs to stop. And it starts with our breathing.
Why does it always start with the breathing?
Seems like some crunchy granola hippy advice, right? Yeah, well, there’s a reason for it. We all breathe, all the time. It comes naturally to us. That’s why you hear about focusing in your breathing all the time when you read about meditation and mindfulness. Your breathing is literally the easiest thing you can possibly make yourself aware of. Stop reading this post right now, and just focus on your breath. Breathe in and out, three times.
Go ahead, I’ll wait!
There. Not hard, right? That’s why you focus on your breath first. Mindfulness isn’t a switch you can just flip and be instantly good at. It’s more like a muscle that, for most of us (myself included), has atrophied over the years from lack of use. You have to slowly begin to work it again to build strength before you try to move on to the tougher stuff. So start with your breathing, and when you can focus on that while ignoring other thoughts that may flow in and out of your mind, you can move on to the other things.
How else can we introduce mindfulness into our homes and lives?
Ok, so we know that mindfulness is about us – it’s about being present in the moment. It’s not about décor, or things, or anything else. That said though, these things can act as tools to help us with our mindfulness practice. Let’s walk through some of them.
Activate the Senses
If mindfulness is about being more aware and present in the moment, it makes sense for the uninitiated to set up their home in a way that makes this process easier. You can do that by focusing on the five senses, one by one.
Sight is all about décor. Mindfulness isn’t the same thing as meditation or zen at all, but there are elements from zen décor and design that can help make the process of practicing mindfulness easier. The idea is to minimize sensory inputs here that could overstimulate your mind and set it off on a train of thought you didn’t want to board. In doing that, consider the following:
- Neutral, earthy colours work best. Because they’re found in nature, they help to put the mind at ease. Bright colours such as vivid reds and pinks have the opposite effect, working your mind up.
- Where possible, choose furniture and accent pieces made of natural materials. Think wicker, linen, wool, and so on.
- Choose warm lighting versus cold. Warm lighting helps create an intimate and inviting space, whereas cold lighting can make things feel too sterile. And let’s face it, a hospital is not the best place to start practicing mindfulness.
When you think touch, think texture. It’s great to mix things up with a soft carpet over hardwood floor, canvas pillows on a wool couch, linen curtains and so on. Having all these different textures keep the room interesting (especially if your colour palette is all-neutral) without overstimulating you. It also gives you an opportunity to practice mindfulness, by feeling each texture and focusing on the differences between them.
Smell is all about aromatherapy. Personally, my wife and I have a few ultrasonic nebulizers scattered throughout our home, and we love them. Now if you don’t know what that is, then that sounded like space-age gibberish to you. Basically, they’re fancy humidifiers that you can put essential oils into to make your home smell nice. They have the added benefit of cleaning your air, too. Here’s a great choice from Amazon, if you’re interested.
When you’re choosing scents for your home, try to go with earthy-smelling ingredients – they’ll help connect you with nature more, and our body and mind love that.
One more note on smell – consider avoiding candles. Sacrilege, I know, but hear me out. I used to LOVE Yankee Candles. Still have a collection of them, in fact. But here’s the thing – every time you burn a candle, it kicks soot into the air. This soot doesn’t just vanish – it settles on your walls, your furniture, and your floor. Not cool. Soy candles do a better job of minimizing this, though they’re more expensive. Just get a nebulizer. Trust me, they’re worth the money.
After a hard day’s work, take some time to put your favourite music on, and just listen to it. Don’t multitask, don’t treat it as background music – just listen. Listen to the bass track, to the treble, try to sense each and every instrument in the song. Listen to the lyrics, and think about what the writer was trying to convey with them. This is a great exercise to practice mindfulness with.
There are a couple of things I’d recommend when it comes to engaging your taste buds. First, consider cooking your own meals. I know, we’re all busy enough as it is. But there’s just something about eating a meal you’ve made yourself that feels different, better, than one you’ve thrown in the microwave. When you put the effort into making diner youself, it makes the next thing I’m going to recommend way easier to do.
So here it is: before you dig into your meal, take a second to stop and express gratitude that you have this food in front of you. It doesn’t have to be to a deity or anything, just an expression of positive feelings at the fact that you have a bountiful meal on the table in front of you. Not everyone is so lucky, and this is another opportunity to practice mindfulness each and every day. Think about where the ingredients for your meal came from. What did the farmers have to do to bring those to life? Thank them, and thank the animals who gave their lives so that you could eat as well.
Clean Your Home
A cluttered home is usually an indicator of a cluttered mind… but it’s tough to clear your mind when you’re surrounded by junk.
It’s a worthy exercise to go through your home and dispose of anything you no longer use. Quoting Marie Kondo, if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it! You’d be amazed at how little we actually need to get by on. By keeping only things (clothing, books, pictures, etc.) that spark joy, you’ll be surrounded only by things that make you happy.
Here’s the kicker to that: remember what I was saying about décor? Well guess what – your accent pieces can’t shine if they’re surrounded by clutter. They can’t breathe, can’t stand out, unless they stand alone!
Make Your Bed
Making your bed in the morning is a small thing that can create a positive ripple effect throughout your day. When you make your bed, you cross an item off your to-do list right away. It creates a small mental shift that sets your mind up to accomplish other, more important tasks throughout the day.
Plus, you know, it’s really nice to get into a fresh-made bed at the end of the day 🙂
Make a Quiet Space
You have a space for work, a space for sleep, and a space for cooking. These spaces are designated to that purpose, and so they remind you of that every time you see them. It’s important to have a small space – even the corner of a room – dedicated just to being quiet. You’re not really setting yourself up for success in practicing mindfulness if you try to do it in your office, after all!
Having a dedicated space for you to practice in can make all the difference when it comes to how quickly you’re able to flex those muscles.
Wrapping it Up
Ok, so we’ve talked about what mindfulness is and how to go about practicing it, so let me just leave you with the benefit of it. Ultimately, people who practice mindfulness are after one thing, and one thing only: happiness. We practice because we’re not happy with how we’re currently living our lives, in some way, shape or form. Mindfulness allows us to practice being more appreciative of every small thing in life: a beautiful sunrise, a moment between father and son, or the soft trickle of a stream in the spring. And when we can appreciate the little things, happiness is no longer something we chase, it’s something we choose, every day. That’s why I believe mindfulness is worth the effort.
What about you, do you have any tips for practicing mindfulness? Share them in the comments section!