After exploring different ways to practice mindfulness, with available tools, such as coloring books for adults, I found that if one wants to take the concept to practice it in real life situations, concentrating in the moment only, is not enough. I regret that I did not save an article where a critique was made to the mindfulness revolution, but its main point was that humans by nature plan ahead and learn from the past to actually make decisions. This is true, however, mindfulness is not against this fact.
We are continually assessing situations and making decisions. The problem is perhaps, that the fast pace of our daily lives does not give us enough time or space to think consciously. As a result, we tend to use heuristics or models that draw information from the past, mostly subconsciously to apply in the present or even plan in the short and long term (Wikipedia: "Heuristics").
Based on my experience, the faster the pace the more difficult to control the decision-making and the thought process. We need to learn how to slow down and start giving our mind a chance of being present again. Updating those models that we have generated in previous experiences, and that sometimes interfere with a new situation, can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and fear of to the unknown.
I do not mean that we must just change and accept all new trends or situations, but I believe that being present and engaging with challenges consciously, can break with vicious cycles that just repeat themselves around our own attitudes.
I have experienced mindfulness as a tool to regain some space and train my brain to slow down or even go faster while being aware of what I am doing and why. It gives me the opportunity to talk to myself and ask why I need to do things in the way I am doing them. It is interesting that when you start thinking about these things you see new ways of introducing these practices in daily routines.
I would like to share some of the activities that I see can help to practice mindfulness without meditating, which is more difficult to master.
From Chaos to Order
Jigsaw puzzles are truly pieces of art. They can inspire you to feel like a great painter or to feel like visiting a beautiful place in the world. Without a doubt to put all the pieces together is challenging, so buying one is already an invitation to the unknown.
Connecting to the feeling of opening the bag full of tiny pieces that spread without any order or logic on the surface of the table is the starting point. There is chaos and the goal is to organize it until it looks like the example on the box. Many people feel the emotion of starting a new project in different ways, such as excitement, fear, caution or even compulsion.
Do not judge any emotion that surface as you start doing the puzzle. Observe them and ask with curiosity what they mean and if you see them when you are in other similar situations. The difference with other experiences in life is that you have a drawing on the top of the box. You can draw hints from it to guide you to the completion of the puzzle. However, we can translate this drawing to the opportunities that we have for planning ahead, such as having a routine in the day that contributes to our health.
As you get piece by piece, be aware what are you looking for and see how you feel and keep the conversation with yourself about how are you feeling. What is the driver behind the task in hand, what patterns you are using to carry out the task? See how you compare what you are experiencing against other areas of your life.
From Beginning to End
Reading a Book
I had a recent experience with a book that deals with a topic that I am interested in right now. I did not like the first pages of the book, I did not like the approach of the author. I was tempted to stop reading it while being very critical of the person that put so much effort into writing the book. I caught myself and slowed down the inner conversation. I decided to stop judging the author in a negative way but instead, I started engaging in a constructive discussion about my opinions in the subjects he was touching. Suddenly the book was not aggressive anymore and I gave the freedom to the author to develop his ideas from beginning to end. I did agree with many of his points and I am still searching for some answers to my doubts on other of his views. I was critical but not cynical, I did not feel challenged by the book but I was curious about what the author was saying and how. I still need to do some research on who is the author and what is his background to understand his work even better, but I am already grateful for the experience of allowing me to challenge myself. I went from beginning to end, from fear to curiosity and satisfaction.
I agreed with many of his points and I am still searching for some answers to my doubts on other of his views. I was critical but not cynical, I did not feel challenged by the book but I was curious about what the author was saying and how. I still need to do some research on who is the author and what is his background to understand his work even better, but I am already grateful for the experience of allowing me to challenge myself. I went from beginning to end, from fear to curiosity and satisfaction.
I have dropped books many times before for different reasons as boredom, competing activities, priorities or just disappointment. However, I realize now that reading a book can be converted in a mindful practice. Choosing the topic and committing to reading the book, one step at a time will help. If you choose to read 30 minutes daily or two hours on weekends, does not matter. The important point is that you make yourself present while reading the book. Observe how you react when a topic or the event in the book is contrary to your expectations, how you judge the author, the characters and yourself. If you are reading a book for practicing mindfulness, remember that is just not about the book, but about the process, it is also about going from beginning to end, being present in the moment.
One Step at the Time
A mandala was a perfect place to explore my attitudes towards the unknown, the strange, the foreign. I am a Christian and my first reaction came out of fear. I rejected the books with mandalas as I thought my faith would be threatened. It was only after I started studying religion sciences that I reflected on the meaning of a mandala. I changed my attitude.
I am not worshiping a mandala while working with them or praising a god that I do not know who sees the mandalas as a confession of faith. A mandala is an empty tool that you fill with your emotions, feelings, and also your own faith. You do not need art to connect to God but you can connect to Him through any work you do, such as arts. For me, a mandala is a work of art.
Based on my own experience, the mandala work helps to reduce stress and relieves anxiety. I usually take three or four colors and put them in the mandalas following a specific order at a steady pace, clockwise or anti-clockwise. It is like having a mental gym for people who like arts or need arts to balance an analytical mind.
I am not a Buddhist, but I am grateful for this tool that has opened a space for me to be creative and that led me to new interests such as culture and dance around the world. It is certainly a mindfulness tool that helps us to be aware of the present situation and self-judgement.
We all, generally have a space in which our self-judgement is negative and the tolerance for our own mistakes is low. I find that the mandala work helps to interact with the frustration and its related emotions and reactions, giving us the opportunity to bring self-compassion to our lives. See how you react when a mistake is made in the safe place of your own mandala. You can make decisions, such as starting all over again, ignoring the mistake and carry on, trying to delete the color out of sequence, but any option you choose in your mindful practice should include self-compassion and intrapersonal communication.