I don’t have the time.” “I’m just too tired.” These are some of the reasons why establishing a daily mindfulness practice is totally out of the question for now, no matter how convinced I am that it would be beneficial.
“Not yet.” “Once things settle down,” we’ll do it then.
But we’re no longer in the fresh hell that was the start of a global pandemic; most of us aren’t doing car-park consulting anymore. Some would say that we aren’t even mid-pandemic, rather that the pandemic is entering its endgame.
The “new normal” is an expression which causes nausea in many of us, not only because this “new normal” seems to have changed a million times over the last two years (making it not “normal” at all), but because it smacks of the fact that we all crave normal and predictable and settled, and we aren’t getting any of those.
So, instead of waiting endlessly for the perfect time to start a daily mindfulness practice, we could instead just start.
Work is insanely busy and time-consuming, and you might feel that you’re being pulled in so many different directions that you must resemble a large splat of paint. But the longer you leave it to start, the more work you will have to do to reach a place of peace.
If you have no time, that’s OK, you can incorporate mindfulness into your life without stopping to sit on a cushion
As one of my vet friends so beautifully put it after I introduced her to mindful breathing when in mid-crisis: “It’s like I put a big tennis net in front of my snowball and stopped it getting bigger and faster down the hill.” This horrific global event can be the impetus for us to start rather than the excuse for us to procrastinate.
If you have no time, that’s OK, you can incorporate mindfulness into your life without stopping to sit on a cushion.
If you’re too tired, remember that mindfulness can help with insomnia and can energise you. No, really. It’s sometimes recommended to people looking for an alternative to sleep medications such as temazepam. If you fall asleep while meditating, do it first thing in the morning with a coffee in your hand sitting upright on the floor instead.
You may have great intentions which work seamlessly on a quiet day, but what would be ideal is for you to practise mindfulness even on the days when you’ve forgotten to wash your child’s PE kit, the washing machine’s just flooded the kitchen, the cat’s puked everywhere, the tube is delayed and you have the mother of all hangovers.
You may have great intentions which work seamlessly on a quiet day, but what would be ideal is for you to practise mindfulness even on the days when you’ve forgotten to wash your child’s PE kit
You won’t know until you try.
So here are five steps to help you to start.
Steps to help you start
1) Establish what you want to do and why you want to do it
It may be that you want to explore what mindfulness is all about on a personal level. Maybe you want to have more strength in a crisis, or maybe you want to be more present so that you can roll with the punches of life and enjoy the sun when it shines.
You decide why you want to do this. Then write the reasons down.
2) Make a non-negotiable schedule
Many people find it easiest to meditate first thing in the morning before anyone else is awake. That involves getting up earlier. It sounds counter-intuitive when you’re already exhausted, but let me tell you a story…
When I first began meditation, I was taught by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk in Letchworth Garden City. I was taught a very purist form of meditation and mindfulness. My mentor told me to set my alarm half an hour earlier than normal every morning for my meditation. I dutifully did this and was so proud of myself I reported back to him with pride. His reply was to tell me to set my alarm an hour earlier than normal instead. I followed his instructions and was leaping out of bed at 5am every morning, full of excitement about meditating in the dark when most people were still asleep. Again, I reported back to him about how well I was doing. He was pleased and said I should get up at 4.30am and meditate for an hour and a half each morning. I did this and the story continues as you would expect. The day he said I should get up at 4am to meditate, I drew the line. No way. We both belly laughed until we cried. Now I know that 90 minutes is my own personal limit.
My point is that, as someone who loves sleep and needs sleep, and as someone who has had problems with insomnia since I was at uni, I now wake up refreshed at 4.30am every morning with excitement. This is my non-negotiable schedule made by me, for me. That’s why it’s valid and why I can stick to it.
By setting your alarm for 20 minutes before anyone else gets up, you are literally “creating time”. So there’s no need to feel guilty for indulging yourself instead of pleasing others and no need to feel you should be checking emails or the overnight progress of your inpatients
I suggest you start with 20 minutes every morning and then make your own non-negotiable schedule for yourself. By setting your alarm for 20 minutes before anyone else gets up, you are literally “creating time”. So there’s no need to feel guilty for indulging yourself instead of pleasing others and no need to feel you should be checking emails or the overnight progress of your inpatients. This is bonus time you have made for this. It’s non-negotiable.
This doesn’t work for everyone. Mindful activity with normal alarm times might be better for you as the object of this is to make it non-negotiable and tailored to you. For example, every time you brush your teeth, try breathing mindfully for two minutes focusing on only your breath. Sounds easy, right? That’s another four minutes of mindfulness per day. Every second counts. If it’s difficult, that’s a fantastic opportunity to recognise that you’re learning something new and wonderful.
Maybe you’ll choose to walk the dog mindfully with your phone off, just being present and immersing yourself in the sounds, smells, temperature and sights around you. That’s mindful dog walking.
You could take 10 deep breaths every time you reach for your phone before you look at it. These days when we’re getting our BBC news “fix” every hour, that’s going to be a significantly frequent moment of calm.
Maybe you’ll choose to walk the dog mindfully with your phone off, just being present and immersing yourself in the sounds, smells, temperature and sights around you
There’s also mindful tea pouring, tea drinking and cup washing. Yes, it’s all recognised mindfulness.
One of my favourites is mindful driving. The music is yoga and meditation from Spotify, my breathing is quiet and regular, my driving is smooth. I welcome other drivers to come in front of me and I thank them for thanking me. After a noisy crazy day at work, half an hour of driving home and I’m in the zone.
3) Make a mindfulness hub
Making a welcoming place for you to practise makes it more likely that you’ll do it. Perhaps you can use a comfy cushion, some incense and headphones. Maybe use an eye mask or some quiet music. If it’s all left in situ, you’re ready to go.
4) Decide in advance what you’re going to do
Meditation isn’t some magic trance only experts get into. It’s, simply put, a bit of a breather for your brain
You could have a list of guided meditations prepared and decide which one you’re going to do each day. Or maybe you can write down one thing you want to focus on while doing unguided meditation each day for the next few days.
Meditation isn’t some magic trance only experts get into. It’s, simply put, a bit of a breather for your brain.
5) Notice non-judgementally
Some days it will feel like you can reach the “zone” immediately. Other days, maybe you won’t be in that place at all. Remember even monks have days when they find it difficult to meditate.
The important thing is to notice non-judgementally, ie with no self-flagellation, no yearning for it to be different and no berating yourself for being imperfect
If it’s a great day for mindfulness, notice the emotions and enjoy. If it’s a rubbish day for mindfulness, notice the frustration or difficulty. The important thing is to notice non-judgementally, ie with no self-flagellation, no yearning for it to be different and no berating yourself for being imperfect.
Our success is in noticing that we didn’t succeed in the way we had originally planned and accepting the emotions which ensue.