Just Too Busy For Mindfulness?
Most therapists appreciate that mindfulness can be a great mental health resource. But how many of us find time to get round to it ourselves? As we mark Stress Awareness Month this April, Margaret Landale, a specialist in stress-related and psychosomatic disorders, shares her own struggle to make just 15 minutes a day for mindfulness – and the benefits when she does.
When I was invited to blog on mindfulness as a resource in psychotherapy, my first reaction was that mindfulness surely does not need another sales pitch. Its benefits have been widely researched, clinically tested and publicised. Mindfulness is in! It is popular! Most of us know by now that mindfulness is good for managing depression, anxiety or chronic pain… and in these uncertain Covid times, we might be especially aware that it can help us to manage the stress and uncertainty and loss we are facing.
But getting round to doing this beneficial thing, perhaps especially in times of crisis, is quite another matter.
So what might get in the way? Well, for a start, isn’t life just too busy and demanding already? And if we have 15 minutes to spare, other things seem to keep getting in the way.
Finding the time
‘Mindfulness does not involve trying to get anywhere or feel anything special. Rather it involves allowing yourself to be where you already are, to become more familiar with your own actual experience moment by moment” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catrastrophe Living)
As I finish my last Zoom call, the exhaustion which I have fought during this last, my fifth online session of the day, washes over me. Clear message from my body: REST. But my head has no time or patience for this. There is a list of things to do that has grown longer as my day progressed. You know the one: emails to write, phone calls to be made, preparing dinner, putting on a wash and tidying the kitchen.
Here it is, my moment of choice! Pause and sit down to meditate, even if just for 15 minutes, or a quick cup of tea whilst getting on with my emails? I know that it would be better to sit down and meditate before getting into my chores, but the choice does not seem to get easier as this Groundhog Day scenario repeats itself.
But this moment of awareness does allow me to stop for a moment, and I’m reminded of the well-known quote attributed to Viktor Frankl: ‘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’.
So often this ‘space’ passes fleetingly, hardly noticed. But if noticed it can give us the clarity we need to choose our mindfulness practice.
My wandering mind
So today I choose to take those precious 15 minutes. I set my timer and sit. Coming into my body first by taking care to settle into a supported, upright and comfortable position. Then I invite my mind’s focus to settle on observing my breath. And so the practice unfolds…
Over and over again I experience my mind wondering – writing those emails in my head, replaying moments from a morning session, planning things to do in the house. Noticing these distractions I choose to bring my attention back to the breath, the base of this mindfulness practice, and re-focus again and again.
And after a while I become aware of a gradual settling of my mind’s activity. A calm descends, a spaciousness. This is not always the case. Sometimes my mind remains restless. Sometimes this planning, worrying mind is not to be calmed and continues in its habitual patterns. However, just as the research (and the Buddha) promises, as I persevere so my practice does bear fruit and mindfulness does help me feel steadier and more at ease with the world – especially in these uncertain times.
And then my timer goes off. I get up feeling refreshed and certainly more resourced for whatever is coming next in my busy day!