Our gift to you this year, lovely Hope Street Cards community, is the present of presence. For the next 12 days of Christmas we will bring you 12 small mindfulness activities to hopefully assist you feel grounded, calm and present this festive period.
For those new to this, mindfulness is about intentionally paying attention, in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. Once we stand back from our thoughts and emotions we can learn to relate to them from a different angle. It doesn't need to be hugely complicated. We can all notice things. Just by standing back and being aware, it can give us a new view of our inner and outer world. One big idea with mindfulness is that thoughts are not who we are, they’re habits of the mind, nothing more. The other big idea is about being. Not doing. Are you ready? Let's get going...
Gift 12. Keep Going!
Happy 12th day of Christmas friends! We truly hope you have found something useful and purposeful from these presence!
If you're interested in continuing with your mindfulness practice here is some suggested resources. Whatever this Christmas throws at you, we hope you can handle it with a non-judgmental attitude of acceptance.
This is by no means an exhaustive list- there is heaps of wonderful stuff out there. But here are some of my favorites and others that I've heard good reports about. Happy mindfulness!
Sane new world by Ruby Wax
Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Mindfulness: an 8 week plan for finding peace in a frantic world, by Mark Williams.
The mindfulness and acceptance workbook for anxiety, by John Forsyth.
The little book of mindfulness, by Tiddy Rowan.
Mindfulness in plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana.
Loving Kindness, by Sharon Salzberg.
How to meditate, Pema Chodron.
Buddha's Brain, by Rick Hansen .
Gift 11. Be here now.
This great piece of advice comes from the well-known spiritual teacher, Ram Dass.
We should ask ourselves:
Where am I?
Then ask ourselves: What time is it?
We should keep repeating the questions and answers to ourselves until we really feel it. Keep repeating until you really feel grounded in present moment reality. Let all the thoughts about the future or the past to just slip away.
It’s handy to write the questions on a sticky-note and stick it to your computer so you can continuously see it throughout the day and reflect on it.
"Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.” ~- Thich Nhat Hanh
Gift 10. Notice 5 in 3 – See, Hear, Feel
Every now and then, challenge yourself to find five things that are part of your present experience. First notice five things that you can see with your eyes. They don’t necessarily have to be interesting; it might just be just a table, the carpet, the TV, a cup, and a plate in front of you. The aim is simply to bring your full awareness to your experience now in the present moment.
Then notice five things you can hear. Keep listening until you’ve distinguished five different sounds.
Then notice five things you can feel with your body. These might be the pressure of the couch, the material of your clothes, a slight breeze, tension in your neck, or air breathing into your nostrils.
Then just rest your mind in this present moment awareness which you’ve just cultivated, and remain in that awareness for as long as you want. Then mindfully go back to your tasks.
“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Gift 9. Facts about the benefits of mindfulness.
There is a growing body of research on why mindfulness is good for us.
Here is some of it:
- Connection to feelings – A number of studies have shown that mindfulness results in increased blood flow to the insula and increased volume and density of grey matter. This is the area that gives us the ability to focus into our body and connect us to our feelings.
- Self control – Researchers have found that after six 30-minute meditation sessions there is increased blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex which is crucial for controlling impulses and may explain why mindfulness is helpful in assisting people with addictive behaviours.
- Reduces anxiety and depression – Studies have found that mindfulness reduces reactivity in the amygdala and participants report feeling fewer negative emotions
- Regulates emotions – People who engage in mindfulness meditation have an increased density of neurons in the hippocampus which is involved in learning and memory and emotional stability.
- Quicker brain – Researchers have found that people who meditate have stronger connections between different areas in the brain. This increases the ability to rapidly relay information from one area to the next giving us a quicker and more agile brain.
Gift 8. Mindful brushing.
Some things we do so often that we almost don’t notice them anymore.
Habits, like brushing our teeth, are usually performed automatically, while the mind skips off to other plans, worries or regrets.
Instead, try to focus on that activity and really experience it. Notice how the brush moves over your teeth and the taste of the toothpaste. The sound of the brush on the teeth. The feeling of the bristles on the teeth and gums.
Let your senses feed on the process and bring your mind back (without judgment) when it wanders off to other worries or thoughts.
You can perform any chore mindfully and you might be surprised what you notice.
Gift 7. Experience thinking itself.
Just like with sounds, notice your thoughts as events in the mind simply as noise rather than trying to follow the meaning. Some people imagine their thoughts are like clouds in the sky; some are heavy, some are light, some threatening but they all keep moving and changing. You can choose whether to jump on one of them but it would be like jumping on a cloud, they aren’t solid structures so you’ll fall through.
Another metaphor is to imagine your thoughts on a cinema screen and you’re watching from the audience. Notice when you find yourself in the film, among the characters caught up in the plot. As soon as you’ve noticed without judgment walk back to the seat and watch the film again. The idea here is to watch how you get caught, step back and then re-engage.
Gift 6. Sounds.
Bring your attention to all the sounds around you right now and tune into them like you are listening to your favourite album. Pick up sounds in front, behind, above, below and the silences in between the sounds. As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, take the focus back to the sound.
Gift 5. Breathe
Before you go to sleep tonight, take a few minutes to bring your attention to your breathing. Just observe and notice five mindful breaths. That’s all.
Gift 4. Focus on your feet.
Stand or sit on a chair with your feet on the floor, with your spine straight but not rigid; your eyes can be open or shut (I usually shut mine, but if you want to keep your eyes open then simply lower your gaze). Now send all your attention to the feel of your feet on the ground. Notice the precise sensations, the weight, the temperature, the tingling, or nothing at all. Notice when your mind takes over with its commentary and as soon as it does, note where it took you (without judgment) and bring your focus back to your feet.
Sound simple? Give it a whirl. How long before your mind grabs you back?
Gift 3. Eat mindfully.
Whenever you eat or drink something today, take a minute and breathe. Look at your food and realise that the food was connected to something that nourished its growth/ Can you see the sunlight, the rain, the earth, the farmer, the truck driver in your food? Pay attention as you eat. Consciously consume this food for your physical health. Bring your awareness to the food. Seeing the food. Smelling the food. Tasting the food. Chewing the food. And swallowing the food.
Eating steamed vegetables will be a whole new experience. Trust me.
Gift 2. Take a Mindful Walk.
Today let’s try and take a walk. But mindfully. You can do this anywhere, but the ideal place is somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed.
When you begin, notice the contact your feet make with the ground.
Which part of your foot leaves the ground last at the end of each step?
Which part strikes the ground first at the beginning of each step?
Notice the pivoting of your ankle as you take a step.
Feel the bend in your knee as you walk.
Notice the alternating flexing and contracting of muscles in your calves and in your thighs
How are your hips moving?
Now pay attention to your back and chest.
How much are your arms swinging
Without changing anything about the way you walk, just notice any differences between the right and left sides of your body: do you move one hip or shoulder or arm more than the other?
Is one foot turned out more than the other?
Has your breathing changed while you’ve been making these observations?
Now I’d like you to shift your attention away from your body to your environment. But I want you to attend to your environment in a specific way.
Walk around for another five minutes or so and simply acknowledge any experience that arises. This may be a sensation such as noticing the temperature of the wind or feeling the ground change underfoot, a thought such as “Is the five minutes up yet?” or a feeling such as boredom, contentment or annoyance.
As each experience appears in your awareness, simply acknowledge it without engaging with it and let it go by. It may help you to do this if you think of yourself figuratively ‘nodding your head’ or waving to the experience, or if you simply say to yourself ‘There’s boredom’ or ‘I’m now observing the temperature’.
You can stop your walk whenever you wish. Of course your ‘mindful walking’ may be part of a journey that you actually need to make such as your walk to work or school.
Gift 1. The 5-Second Stop and Notice Exercise
I told you these activities would be short!
Today find yourself an activity that will be your cue to begin this activity. It might be closing your computer or when you finish or start eating or washing the dishes.
Or maybe set your phone to ‘ting’ every few hours. When it does ‘ting’ (or when other cued activity occurs), STOP and NOTICE what’s going on in your mind and your body. That’s it. Stop and notice. Then move on.