What is mindfulness and can you train your mind for it?
We all know that Sunday evening feeling; the slight dread of having to go to work again in the morning. Now imagine that feeling turned up about a thousand watts and it´s no longer a feeling of slight annoyance but a feeling of sheer dread and terrible anxiety. Imagine now being at said work and the feeling of anxiety will not go away. Instead, it is accompanied by heart palpitations and sweating. You feel like you are going to have a heart attack….
This is what happened to Sabine Leitner-de Potter´s husband a few years ago. He was signed off work for several months due to stress. He had hit the proverbial wall. This is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon these days. What stands out, in this case, is how Sabine and her husband found their way back, not to their life before, but to a new life lived Mindfully.
Mindfulness is a very hot topic in many countries but is only now starting to find its feet in Switzerland. If you haven´t yet felt the buzz about Mindfulness let me give you a quick recap: When I read up on the topic it seems Mindfulness can help with everything from stress and anxiety to cancer and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Good old Wikipedia says that “engaging in Mindfulness prevents one from self-criticism, ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future.” Although the specific Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been around since 1979, it seems more relevant now than ever considering the world we currently live in.
I have to admit I have been very curious about Mindfulness for a while now, but I have also been slightly hesitant to discuss it with friends, as one friend looked aghast at me when I mentioned the word: “Mindfulness?! How is that even a word?” We discussed it no further.
I digress, back to Sabine: a Mindfulness coach and trainer, founder of Rainbow Development in Switzerland. She has a background in physical health but has since come full circle to work on a more holistic approach, including body, mind, heart and spirit.
I meet Sabine on a most glorious autumn afternoon in Villette Park in Cham, near the lake. It is almost ridiculously beautiful, you cannot make these kinds of afternoons up. We sit in the sunshine and Sabine tells her story, how she came to, not only lead a mindful life, but also how she teaches others about living life in a Mindful way.
Sabine is literally the embodiment of calm and she answers all my questions with such grace and harmony. I was, I admit, slightly worried that she would be difficult to interview, that she might be offended by any questions examining Mindfulness, or that she would wear batik harem pants. I needn’t have worried: instead, I meet with one of the most authentic and serene women ever.
She is the first person to acknowledge that not everyone needs mindfulness. If you already are a truly content person you can skip the Mindfulness lessons and proceed straight on. For the rest of us humans, however, I believe mindfulness could be the answer to a much more fulfilling and content life. If you lose your cool even though you know you shouldn´t (hello trying to leave the house on time with the children dawdling…), or you find yourself worrying about what might happen to the housing market, or whether your business is going to flourish within a certain time period…. Anyone?
“Mindfulness gives you the tools to make life lighter.” It helps you living life at this moment, and stops you from worrying about what you cannot change.
It also helps to seriously turn down the volume on that unpleasant inner critical voice we all have, and without that critical voice, we also start leading lives without judgment. Just imagine that; a life without judgment! No more judging ourselves – forever our harshest critics – but also no more judging of other people. Revolutionary!
THE ONLY WAY TO LEARN MINDFULNESS IS PRACTICE IT
But, and yes there is a but, in order to get our minds there, it takes work. A lot of work.
There are exercises you need to do, meditation and “body scanning” – a form of relaxation where you try to truly feel what is happening inside your body and mind. You need to truly understand what you are feeling and where you are feeling it. In the process of learning how to “deal with” emotions such as anger and sadness, you are not trying to quash them, quite the contrary, you need to truly feel these emotions, in order to acknowledge them and then move on from them.
In fact, acknowledgment seems to be a major factor in Mindfulness. You acknowledge all of your feelings as well as those of others, without necessarily acting upon them. I repeat myself, but just imagine a life where not everyone feels the need to comment on everybody else´s actions or feelings. What a world!
Sabine´s Mindfulness courses are eight weeks, which include both group sessions and homework. It takes about an hour per day to “do” Mindfulness at home. It is certainly not always easy, it can be frustrating to meditate at first when your head is literally buzzing with things to go on your to-do list, and Sabine is honest about the fact that not many people will perhaps never find themselves in a 100% zen state of mind during meditating, but that you simply get better at meditating by doing and practicing. Although one hour per day might seem like a lot, imagine the time (and wrinkles and potentially years of your life) you will be saving by not (over)reacting to all those things in your daily life that you cannot change anyway, no matter how flustered you get.
Personally, I know many a parent of “toddlers-who-think-they-can-do-everything-by themselves” who could benefit. We found some very useful tips and ideas on practicing mindfulness every day here.