We understand time to manifest in one of three tenses: the past, the present, and the future. We spend a great deal of our time (and mental energy) dwelling in memories of our past, regretting decisions we have made, longing we were younger; or worrying about our future, how we will pay our bills, and when we can afford to go on holiday. In so doing we deprive ourselves of living fully in the only moment where we are actually alive – the present moment, which is immediately now and continuously with us.
The concept of ‘mindfulness’ originated out of the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, who was a philosopher and spiritual teacher who lived in ancient India, and is now revered as the founder Buddhism. The foundational philosophy behind ‘mindfulness’ is the Four Noble Truths. Deceptively simple, these ‘truths’ provide a profound explanation of human unhappiness and teach how to attain increasingly positive states of mind. This is achieved by finding relief from the stress of daily life and replacing it with unshakeable calmness.
The Four Noble Truths:
- Suffering is part of life. This does not mean that all of life entails suffering, but rather that at times everyone experiences some kind of suffering, be that in the form of stress, worry, anxiety, sadness, or loneliness.
- The realization that our suffering comes from our attachments to desire, our cravings, our inability to forgive ourselves or to let go of unachievable hopes. We think things like: “to be happy… I must have a partner”; “I need to have more money”; “I have to lose weight”; I hate being lonely”; “I have to go on holiday”, “I need the latest iPhone”, etc.
- To stop suffering and find happiness is to realize how our attachments are essentially irrational. Mindfulness is the practice of letting go of our unhealthy attachments to desire, cravings, and unachievable beliefs, a practice that brings about a state of calm and happiness.
- The fourth Noble Truth guides us towards the Noble Eightfold Path, which provides further direction and clarity about uprooting the causes of suffering and increasing a stable sense of peace, wisdom, and mindful happiness (Hanh, 2008).
At its core, mindfulness is a state of non-distraction that bears full attention to the present moment. It is a kind of moment-to-moment awareness that is in full acceptance of one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. The psychic energy that mindfulness creates helps bring our mind back to our body enabling us to center ourselves in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being (Hanh, 2016).
Try out this simple exercise:
- Sit on a cushion on the floor or in a comfortable chair.
- Keep your back straight and avoid reclining to avoid drowsiness.
- Balance your head comfortably.
- Gently close your eyes and listen to your breathing, slowly and deeply…
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I notice my in-breath has become deeper.
Breathing out, I notice that my out-breath has become slower….
Breathing in, I calm myself.
Breathing out, I feel at ease.
Breathing in, I smile.
Breathing out, I release.
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment.
from Thich Nhat Hanh
written by Neil Clayton, Clinical Psychologist