5 Ways to Be Mindful Without Meditation
5 Ways to Be Mindful Without Meditation
Meditation isn’t for everyone.
I am certainly a proponent of it, but I know that at times it can be boring or even painful emotionally. It’s so rare for us to give ourselves the chance to sit and do nothing that when we do, it can allow difficult thoughts to surface which can be uncomfortable enough to make us not want to try it again.
But there are also times when I’ve found it to be an extremely useful tool to help quieten the mind.
I’m one of those people who has a lot of thoughts running through my head all the time. I guess we all are, but mine seem to be all over the place. At any one time I might be in the middle of writing eight blog posts, I might have four ‘to do’ lists going (a couple on paper, one in my phone ‘notes’, one in a spreadsheet), and I’m also thinking about what I’m doing next weekend, planning for my next holiday and considering what I’m going to say to someone when I reply to their text message.
This constant mental chatter is also frequently being interrupted by work, responsibilities, or, you know, interacting with other people around me, and there’s so much flying around in my head that at times I find it hard to even remember what I am meant to be doing on a particular day.
Given this state of my mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that I am noticeably calmer when I’ve spent some time being mindful. My mood is lifted; I feel happier, physically more relaxed, more motivated, more creative.
But I was thinking about that particular feeling, and about how I can access it on those days when meditation just isn’t going to happen for me. I realised that I also experience that same feeling after engaging in a whole host of other activities that demand my full attention.
Mindfulness simply means being present or ‘in the moment’, and the reason it’s so enjoyable is that for a short period of time, you’re not worrying about some future problem that doesn’t exist yet, planning for some future event or creating mental to-do lists. You’re not dwelling on something from the past, allowing it to make you feel sad or regretful. You’re simply living.
I believe this explains why some people become obsessed with certain types of exercise – they let it truly consume them and come out of a session feeling rejuvenated, partly because they’ve spent an hour so focused on what’s happening in their body that they haven’t been able to let their mind run away with itself.
On a recent trip to South Africa, I spent three days on safari. Despite the fact that I was going through a very difficult time, I managed to have some of the best days of my life. It revealed to me a number of things that enable us to be truly mindful.
Without wifi or cellular data, I saw no reason to carry my phone with me. You don’t realise how much you resort to your phone anytime you have a moment of space until you take away the temptation.
It could be to scroll through Facebook, looking at other people’s lives, to read an article or to write a message to a friend – but whatever you’re doing, you’re not where you really are.
It was surprising just how freeing it was to not be given that option. It also saw our group of friends have some of the most real conversations we’d had on our whole two week trip.
I wouldn’t say I’m someone who’s addicted to my phone or someone who uses social media very much at all, but I do struggle even when watching TV to not scroll through my phone – to the point that I sometimes have to rewind whatever I was watching because I realise I wasn’t paying attention.
Give yourself a phone-free hour every day; you’ll be surprised at how it opens up the space and opportunity to notice what’s really happening around you.
I was listening to my favourite podcast, Philosophize This, recently and on it, Stephen West talked about the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s perspective on why humans love a good view. He explains it so well that I’d prefer to leave it in his words:
“Why do we pay so much more for property that has an amazing view in the back yard? Why do we love going on a hike, coming to the edge of a ravine and looking out at a vast expanse of trees and lakes and snow capped mountains? … Schopenhauer would say that the reason we all love a good view is… because it allows us, if only for a couple of minutes, to escape this state of constantly striving and desiring and reaching for things. Think about it, when you’re on the edge of that cliff, and you’re looking out at this amazing view, what are you thinking about in that moment? Are you thinking about getting that promotion? Are you thinking about the leopard interior that you want in your dream car? No. You are totally consumed by that moment. Totally present. We love a good view because for just a couple minutes, we’re not thinking about anything but the beauty of what is in front of us.”
When we were on safari, I certainly experienced this. The beauty of the African landscape, dotted with marula trees and frequently interrupted by stunning animals, was so mesmerising and so deserving of our full attention that there was no room for other thoughts.
The philosopher Schopenhauer also points out it’s not just a good view that can do this to us – we can have this moment with anything beautiful enough to captivate us like this. We can be feeling a song so much that we’re thinking of nothing other than signing along or we can be so immersed in a movie that we forget we’re sitting in a theatre. This made me think of why I love going to concerts and the theatre so much as well, and always leave feeling rejuvenated and revitalised. Great art can demand our attention so much that it allows us to escape our own minds, just for a moment.
Similarly, taking time to look at some of the amazing things that are just inherent in this earth is so intriguing it’s hard to think of anything else. On safari, watching the animals in their natural habitat was so magical and so contrary to how we usually spend our time that we couldn’t help but be enthralled by it.
Even just sitting around the fire at night, looking at the stars, I thought about where I was and how incredible it was – more so than I possible could have if I was sitting on the couch inside.
To get a little bit of this in my regular life, I try to spend time outdoors every day. Even in winter, I walk to work and make a point of noticing the outdoor temperature, feeling the sun on my face or the chill on my skin. Something as simple as this can help you feel more grounded and present.
How many times do you eat lunch at your desk, or even as you’re walking from place to place?
When you do sit down for dinner, are you busy on your phone or in conversation, so much so that you suddenly realise all your food is gone? Or is a meal so familiar to you that you don’t really get any joy out of if anymore?
I can distinctly remember a time when I felt so joyous about food, it was all I thought about – every single mouthful. I was on my last day of a yoga retreat in Sri Lanka. I was the only person booked in for the yoga retreat at that time, so I’d spent an awesome few days with my Russian yoga instructor getting basically personalised lessons. I’d had chefs asking me what I wanted to eat each day (to which I always replied ‘anything’) and had enjoyed the most amazing Sri Lankan food for every meal.
I was eating my last meal before I made the journey home – a journey I’d be making a much different person to when I’d journeyed over, a nervous girl on her first big solo trip.
I felt so nostalgic already about this amazing place, and the fact that it was my last meal I’d be eating there really hit home. I savoured every mouthful, dissecting the flavours and textures in my mind, and eating far past when I was full. Like every day, I’d taken a book with me to write in while I had my meal, but I couldn’t write anything – I was too engrossed in my food. I realised how different it is eating in a restaurant on your own – such a rare occurrence for most, but it really allows you to truly focus on your food and nothing else.
On safari in South Africa, we were cooked delicious, fresh meals three times a day. Having worked up a hunger while out in the bush, we were always excited to see what would be waiting for us when we got home. We’d sit down to the meal, with no TV or phones to distract us, and we savoured every mouthful, truly focused on that moment alone.
Pretty much anything you focus your mind on can help you be present. Some people say that washing the dishes is really enjoyable or therapeutic for them. Cooking is similar.
In fact, anytime you’re creating something with your hands, you’re generally only focusing on that activity.
‘Mindful’ adult colouring has become a trend of late for the same reason.
Find a hobby that you enjoy and use it as your time to be truly present.