Mindfulness for Busy Minds and Busy Lives
People often tell me that they cannot practice mindfulness because of their busy minds or their busy lives. Conversely, people also often tell me that they need to practice mindfulness because of their busy minds and busy lives! I often tell people that there are two types of mindfulness practitioners – those who are naturally mindful and those who practice because they need it! I am certainly one of the second category and I don’t know if I have ever met one of the first! I am a busy person. I work long hours running a business, leading classes, seeing clients etc. I am constantly planning, plotting and scheming. So how do we use mindfulness to work with the ‘monkey mind’? And how on earth do we fit it all in?
Working with Thoughts
In meditation, it is normal to become distracted by thoughts. Often intrusive thoughts are the very reason why we decide to practice mindfulness in the first place. I think the most important thing to recognise is that thinking is normal and that we don’t meditate in order to make the thoughts go away – however appealing that might seem. When we meditate we are learning to change our relationship with our thoughts and learning to train the mind to focus on something else instead – such as the breath
The problem with thoughts is that when try to block them out or push them away, often they come back, louder and stronger. However, when we buy into them we can find ourselves believing the things that our thoughts are telling us and this can lead to worry and catastrophising.
Some thoughts have a greater effect than others and are harder to let go of. These are the thoughts that have an emotional element and trigger an emotional response.
Content vs Nature of Mind
So how do we look at our thoughts without looking from them? How do we acknowledge a thought without becoming carried away by it? And how do we stay grounded if a thought is particularly emotive? One way is to become curious about the thought in the moment – not about its meaning but just about the very fact that it has arisen – ‘oh I am thinking about X, isn’t that interesting,’ rather than ‘I really shouldn’t be thinking about X because it means that I am a bad person.’ When we become curious about a thought in the moment we can begin to notice the type of thoughts we are having and the effects they have on the body. Again, this helps us to stay away from the content of the thought. For instance, ‘this is an anxious thought; it feels tight in my chest.; it feels unpleasant but I am ok’ rather than ‘I feel anxious about X and I really need to get it sorted out and what if…’
Finding the Time to Meditate
Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day and the very thought of taking time out to meditate fills us with horror. As a chronically busy person I can relate to this. So here are my thoughts on mindfulness for the busy.
Firstly please please please don’t beat yourself up for not meditating! We all start off with good intentions. And often life gets in the way! That’s absolutely fine! When I teach courses with home practice I often turn up on week 2 to find half of the group apologetically explaining to me that they haven’t done enough. This is normal! Instead of beating yourself up for what you are not doing, try noticing what you are doing. Celebrate the days when you have found the time to meditate.
We don’t need a lot of time to practice mindfulness. Personally I find the most pleasure in those little mindful moments throughout the day – when I notice a sunset or a beautiful tree – those moments when I take a pause from the thinking to just be present. Sometimes it just takes a breath. In the midst of the to-do lists and the busyness, just taking a moment to focus on your breathing is enough to bring you into the present.
Finding tome to practice however sometimes involves makes choices about our priorities. We might be busy but how much time are we wasting? If we spend a little less time on Facebook or watching reruns of old TV programmes then maybe we can find a few minutes to meditate. So yes be kind to yourself – but sometimes we need a little discipline!
Busy Minds: Busy Lives
Yes we are busy, yes our minds are filled with thoughts. I do believe that every moment that we spend with more awareness is valuable. There is no such thing as a bad meditation – even if we feel that we are struggling. We are planting the seeds of greater clarity that will bear fruit in our day-to-day lives. As Pema Chodron puts it:
‘We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.”