Have you ever arrived somewhere and wondered how you got there? It might be the same trip to work, the school drop-off, to the grocery store? Sometimes I arrive places and I question how I got there – I don’t remember going through those particular lights, I don’t remember going past the service station, did I stop at the stop sign, did I give way at the roundabout? I can even recall a few situations where I have stopped on a green light! Sometimes our heads get so full of other stuff that things that we do routinely, we sometimes do on auto-pilot, we let so many other thoughts in that there simply isn’t any room left for arduous everyday tasks.
I recently undertook a two day drive into Central New South Wales, I was not looking forward to driving all that way without another driver, however, the trip needed to be taken and there was simply no choice in the matter. I did not have a very good sleep the night before our initial departure as my head was filled with dread and worry.
I had to get my children and myself to our final destination, so off we set via the coffee shop. Three hours in and we have settled into our own routines of videos, books, music and of course, watching the road. As we travelled south west the rain was sporadic and my concentration level increased slightly. My level of concentration peaked for the last 3 hours of that day’s driving as I was negotiating rain, road-trains, caravans and plenty of water over the road, particularly in the floodways. When we arrived at our overnight destination I was surprised to find myself completely alert and only slightly exhausted. I had to be completely mindful of driving on an open highway in order to arrive safely. We had still had one full day of driving ahead of us and instead of dreading it like the previous night, I was actually looking forward to it – I was enjoying being totally mindful of one action and one action only.
The thing about being mindful is that you are completely unaware of the fact that you are doing it and that is the hardest thing about becoming mindful. To me, mindfulness is being in the complete moment and not thinking or worrying about what has gone and what is coming next. A good example of overthinking mindfulness is when you might take your children to the park and promise to be mindful of every moment, but you are so caught up in trying to be mindful of the birds, the people, the smells, that you miss an opportunity to push your child on the swing, or dig to China with them in the sand.
Whilst I practice yoga and meditation my most mindfulness time is when I am in my kitchen creating some new yummy, healthy recipe to share with my family, or writing an assignment for Uni, hours before the deadline – in this instance I don’t have much choice but to be mindful!
Research is beginning to show links between mindfulness and delayed onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the constant mental chatter in our heads is referred to as default memory activity, and it may prove that this lack of distracted mental activity may be using up precious brain cells. By practicing mindfulness we can conserve these brain cells, particularly those in the area of memory and executive functioning.
Mindfulness can also help us to reduce stress. As soon as we wake our mind begins chattering away, it may remind us of the meeting we have later in the day, it may insist that we have a coffee before we do anything else, it may start worrying about what we are going to wear today, who do need to impress, or what expectations are we putting on ourselves as the day begins to unfold. By practising mindfulness we are able to clear our minds and deal with one thing at a time. Mindfulness also allows us to enhance our emotional intelligence and therefore develop an understanding of our thought process and in turn, we are able to effectively handle painful thoughts and feelings and build our personal resilience.
Further benefits of Mindfulness: