How To Experiment With Mindful Living – Part 1
There seems to be a ‘mindful’ version of everything these days, but what does that word really mean any more? I think it’s become a by-word for many additional (and related) qualities. Some of the areas that seem to me to overlap might be: intentional living, the Slow movement, minimalism and voluntary simplicity.
I don’t really care if what I call mindful living is described alternatively by someone else. You can read my own attempt to define Mindful Living here, but it’s by no means the last word!
Personally I prefer the word ‘awareness’ to the term ‘mindfulness’ (perhaps partly because the word ‘mindful’ is often used to sell things that have little to do with awareness) – and you could say that all the examples above are about living with greater awareness. They all point to living in a way that’s better for our own wellbeing, and also happens to be better for the world around us too.
What inspired me to write this post was hearing someone say ‘I wanted to challenge myself to live more simply’ (in the film A Simpler Way). In our culture, to live mindfully is a challenge, but maybe instead of perceiving discomfort and deprivation in that, we could discover a satisfaction in challenging ourselves, in not always making the easy choice, or defaulting to our usual habits for the sake of speed or comfort.
Living mindfully may not be easy, but it is hugely enriching – just not in the way we’re used to measuring ‘success’, as it often means doing and having less, not more. A theme that runs through much of what follows is to question the assumption that ‘more’ is necessarily better.
I wanted to offer a resource for anyone who wants to explore living more mindfully. I nearly called this post ‘Mindful Living Challenges’, but I didn’t want to encourage striving for achievement and success, or criticising yourself for failing.
I prefer to think of the ideas I’m sharing as experiments. There’s no need to approach it as a list of things to achieve; instead you could just pick an area to play with. Find something that appeals and try it out for a day or a week, or a month even – and just see what the impact is in your own life.
Some of my own mindful living experiments have ‘failed’, but I’ve always learned a lot about my own habits in the process – and that’s kind of the point, after all.
This isn’t about showcasing a particular lifestyle; it’s just about living with more awareness. My life isn’t perfect. But it doesn’t have to be perfect to be a mindful life.
So here’s a compilation of things I’ve found useful to support mindful living – bearing in mind I’ve been at this for a number of years, and I certainly didn’t adopt them all at once!
Part 1 of this post focusses on reducing the chronic busy-ness that can undermine our ability to be well; Part 2 looks at reconnecting with the natural world, which increases our capacity for well being.
I hope you enjoy exploring these for yourself, and that you get a few pleasant surprises…
It’s hard to be fully present when your phone is beeping with notifications every couple of minutes. Here are a few ways to find a healthy balance with tech.
- Turn off notifications – I found the most nerve-wracking place to do this was in my old office job, and it was also the most liberating: I actually started getting through some of my To Do list, and my inbox got emptier, because the less emails you reply to, the fewer responses you generate. Elsewhere, like social media, I’ve learned the art of ignoring notifications until I’m ready to look at them.
- Take a digital retreat – this might just be one day of the week when you keep your phone switched off. Through going on week-long retreats where your phone is off throughout, I’ve learned that I never missed anything important anyway.
- Be less available – encouraged by my own digital retreats, these days my phone is on silent as a rule, unless I’ve arranged to speak to someone or am expecting important news. I can then check for messages at a time of my choosing, and give people my full attention when I do speak to them.
Another way to come at this is to intentionally reduce productivity, which increases moments of non-doing. A meditation teacher of mine used to schedule ‘doing nothing’ in his diary, but here are some other ways to play with this.
- Just have a cup of tea, without checking your texts too.
- Prioritise having a rest – I sometimes do this first (or something I enjoy), rather than saving it to reward myself, because it can end up not happening at all if I leave it till last.
- Try waiting (for a kettle, bus or cashier) without scrolling through social media on your phone.
- Meditation is practising non-doing; sitting doing nothing for 5 mins is meditation.
- Take a pause between tasks – even if you use it to ‘do’ a 5-minute meditation
If you need to reduce your pace gradually, a good step towards non-doing is to reduce multitasking. For example:
- Listen to your partner/child/co-worker with full attention (without half an eye on your emails or TV).
- Watch a movie or read a book (not both at once).
- Make chores mindful by staying fully focussed on the task in hand – this is known as ‘working meditation’ on retreats.
I sometimes think that the secret ingredient to a mindful life is time. One of the most impactful things you can do to help yourself live more mindfully is to make more time and space for the things you really value. I’ve written about slow living before, but here are some additional ways to reduce busy-ness:
- Travel slow – this is a practice I’m very committed to, because it stops me from trying to cram too much into a day. Wherever possible, I opt to travel on foot, or by train instead of by car. The added bonuses are that I connect more deeply with travelling companions, and I get more contact with nature.
- Under-schedule yourself – deliberately leave some gaps in your diary. They probably will get filled, and when they do, you won’t feel overwhelmed. You might start with areas you have more control over like social time, and build up to more challenging areas like work.
- Under-achieve – while a dose of healthy satisfaction is great for our wellbeing, striving to over-achieve can stop us from enjoying life as it unfolds. Find where you need to take the pressure off.
- Do the bare minimum – when you look at your To Do list, identify what you don’t need to do (or at least not right now). This approach has transformed my relationship with ‘productivity‘, so that I can be much kinder to myself.
I should say that don’t do all of these things all of the time. But as I’ve added more of them into my life, perhaps for a few minutes each day, they have begun to accumulate and take root to create a tangible sense of well being. For me, these everyday practices are just as important as my time spent in sitting meditation.
And if it sounds like I’m suggesting that you give up an awful lot, read the next part of the post for my reflections on not feeling deprived, and some further ways to experience the benefits of mindful living.