3 ATTENTION REGULATION
Be Mindful is an 8-week proposal to help students cope with test anxiety.
I am using this clip (sorry that it is inappropriate for some users) because I see it as a clear example of living on auto-pilot as opposed to bringing awareness to our actions. In the 1994 highest-grossing British film Four Weddings and a Funeral we all laughed with Charles and his sister (Hugh Grant and Charlotte Coleman) jumping out of bed at the beep of the alarm clock and their following stream of actions that we very often do in complete unawareness. How many times have you found yourself jumping out of bed, having breakfast, getting in the car, going to work, finishing work, picking up the kids, going home, cooking food, having dinner, going to bed without even realising where all the time has gone. And the same thing the day after. And the day after. And one year later. Then ten years later.
It happens all the time, in every day life, a bit like in the classic Groundhog Day we wake up every morning and follow an automatic daily routine. Sometimes we are not even aware of when we missed our exit on the motorway or what this tv program we have been watching for the last half hour is about. We don’t know sometimes why we are doing the things we do, or why we are spending time with these people around, or why we are on this trip when we would have rather stayed at home, or the opposite. We are not actually fully aware of what we do. We just keep doing things automatically without really questioning much. And then … one day, maybe, we find ourselves in a position we didn’t choose that is making ourselves very unhappy or is adding stress to our existence or is bringing us down badly. And we then wonder how we got there. This is called unawareness.
When and how did I choose this?
To stop living on autopilot we simply need just that: to stop. Stop and see. Stop and feel. Stop and make that conscious decision. Stop and ask ourselves do I really want this, do I really need to, will this really bring happiness into my life, am I aware of the consequences. The intention of Mindfulness practice is to bring consciousness to our movements, to the moments we are living, the decisions we are making, the people we are sharing our precious time with. We befriend silence just to pay full attention and be at enormous ease. To become more aware and walk the right path for us preventing ourselves from suddenly finding that we are all trapped within the wrong situation, place or people when we had no intention whatsoever to actually get there! I like to call this tool my personal GPS system.
Contrary to what is often assumed we don’t necessarily need (like Congressman Tim Ryan above) to formally sit still on a cushion to practice. There is a variety of Attention Regulation practices which this blog entry today will introduce you to.
We can increase focus by incorporating present-time awareness into movement, for instance, walking mindfully to work. We can bring awareness to the sounds and smells around, to how we feel or what we say, we can investigate and become more aware of how our body works and feels. We can choose one activity that we will be performing during the day as a mindful bell, for example, answering a phone call, cooking or having a shower, and take a conscious shift to direct our mind towards appreciating the present moment with full attention noticing our breathing, emotions, and body as it is performing the task.
We can also increase our awareness throughout the day with portable Mindfulness practices like simply stopping what you are doing for a little while and taking a few minutes to just pay full attention to an object and become more aware of the present moment. Try to discipline your mind while your mind may try to go to the past or the future. Become more aware of what is going on around you but also inside of you. So you can better understand your own habits and emotional states.
We may as well pick a time to practice Mindful eating (during one meal a day or when having our favourite drink) and bring in all our senses to what we notice – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sounds, any thoughts, feelings or emotions that arise…and keep a journal about this experience if we really get into it. Appreciating and noticing our body sensations will give us information, for example, of when to have food and drink and how much we actually need.
One other misconception about Mindfulness practices is that we just sit back and relax to disconnect when it is rather the opposite, the suggestion is sitting up and if possible, not to lean against the back of the chair and to connect to our inner and outer experiences. Other formal instances include standing and lying down practices.
The intention we want to put into the practice will guide us, for example, if we choose to do our formal practice as the day begins in the morning we may put a particular intention into the day to replace «the autopilot» and focus on what we are here for, what we want our day to begin like, from where will I act today, what do I would I (not) like to bring into my life today. Mindfulness gives us the freedom of not-having-to-be but to feel and choose the best solution that suits what is happening to me here and now by connecting to this present moment
«Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom» (Viktor E. Frankl)