Life is busy. Every day gives us sensory overload: things travel fast, lights flash and the traffic roars. There is so much to see, hear, smell and touch and sometimes it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day to do so. We have to block out certain sounds, visual images and sensations just to get from A to B without going mad. Although this is useful in many ways, it also means shutting off parts of ourselves and our feelings.
When was the last time you just sat back, closed your eyes and thought ‘How am I really feeling right now?’
That is what mindfulness is about. It starts with ourselves, with feeling physical sensations, becoming more aware of our bodies. It moves to the external world, where we learn to pause for a second and enjoy the feeling of the air on our skin as we walk along the street, to notice the smells that change from one yard to the next, to feel the ground under our shoes, to notice every detail about the houses and the trees.
It feels strange to begin with but can open up a world of new experiences.
Let’s begin with a simple exercise.
Take a raisin (or any other food you like that isn’t too sticky/greasy/liquid to manhandle a bit). Spend a minute looking at the raisin, noticing it’s colour, texture, all the little folds in its skin. Then take a moment to smell the raisin; is the scent sweet or tangy, strong or unnoticeable?
Next, put the raisin in your mouth but don’t chew. Just swish it around a bit and feel the texture of it with your tongue. Can you taste anything yet?
Then, take one small bite out of the raisin. Notice the difference between the taste and the texture on the inside and outside.
Once you’ve noticed everything there is to be noticed this time, try eating the raisin slowly, staying aware of everything you can taste and feel.
The first time I read about this exercise, I was thinking ‘Just eat the frikkin’ raisin already!’ by about halfway through. It might take a couple of goes, but the purpose of that exercise is to help us to fully experience and enjoy the taste and texture of what we eat.
For more information about mindfulness, you can watch this video by Jon Kabatt-Zinn. There are plenty of meditation and awareness exercises online and an 8-week programme teaching the mindfulness technique in Jon’s book, The Mindful Way through Depression(primarily aimed at people with depression or anxiety but the techniques are useful for anyone who wants to learn more about mindfulness).