Challenge: 300 Minutes of Mindfulness. Here’s What Happened
“If your mind wanders off, gently bring the attention back to the body.”
Andy Puddicombe’s gentle, reassuring and confident voice is still lingering in my ears. And rightly so, for I’ve cycled through my thoughts (and feelings) at least a thousand times during the 300 minutes of mindfulness.
I was amazed to learn that we spend 47% of our waking hours thinking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with the present moment.
We thus live nearly half of our day in a state of inattention and unawareness. We are not living in the present. Not in the here and now. If we are to believe the bestselling author Eckhart Tolle, then this moment is the only one we have and the only one that matters.
And so this is how my month challenge came about: I wanted to find out how I could include some effective mindfulness exercises in my daily routine and what affect these would have on me and those around me.
The point of practicing mindfulness on a daily basis was to achieve the following goals:
- understand and appreciate the present moment
- not get lost in my thoughts
- be focused instead of distracted
- be able to cope with difficult feelings and emotions
Mindfulness or meditation?
At first, I wasn’t sure what the difference was between mindfulness and traditional meditation. The founder of the Langer Mindfulness Institute, Ellen Langer, has described meditation as a tool to achieve mindfulness. Essentially, the goal is to discover something new.
We can’t change every situation we face in life, but we can decide how we experience it. That is the power of mindfulness.
28 days x 10 minutes
Wednesday, February 1, 7 am – time to get started. The Headspace app is installed and I start my first ten minutes with Andy. I am sitting comfortably on my padded chair in the kitchen. I have a hot cup of chamomile tea in front of me and my little dog in my lap. Andy’s deep voice invites me to relax. He guides me through the entire session as if he were sitting next to me. I feel how my arms and legs get heavy, my shoulders relax and my face softens. I try to focus on my breathing and count: in … one, out … two, in … three etc. Thoughts float by like clouds. Don’t try to hold them, or weigh them, just let them wander past…
After nine minutes, my impatience gets the better of me and I close the app early, thinking that I have successfully completed the first session. Unfortunately for me, the app catches me cheating and adds an extra session on to tomorrow’s. So I ended up starting twice and learned my first lesson in practicing patience.
This was the beginning of my new morning routine: being mindful in the kitchen with tea and Mocha (my dog) for ten minutes. I have to admit that I skipped my morning meditation exercise three times because I was more in the mood for listening to loud music to get my energy levels up on those mornings. Some days I had the feeling that I needed this more desperately than tranquility and mindfulness.
One time I wanted to do the ten minutes in the office during my lunch break, but I had to stop after five minutes because I couldn’t relax in the meeting room.
10 minutes = 1000 thoughts
On average, we have about 60,000 thoughts per day. During my morning mindfulness session, I sometimes had the feeling I had already run through a 1,000 of them – although I was actually supposed to think less and feel more. Well, actually, I should do nothing. Just be – that was the goal. When thoughts arise, I should just let them come and go. Easier said than done.
To be mindful now, in this moment, you need two things: focus and awareness. If you have ever tried this, you know how hard it is to let your thoughts, feelings, images or scenes drift past you like clouds instead of seizing and pursuing them.
It’s not so easy to reach a state of mindfulness. Like everything else it is a matter of practice. How do we get in better shape? By running, cycling, strength training or swimming on a regular basis for a long period of time. How do we become more mindful, relaxed and present in the moment? By practicing daily. As Aristotle said: “Out of our deeds we form habits.” We become what we do. We are our habits.
1,000 thoughts → 1 insight
Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword everybody is talking about. I think there are a lot of benefits to this method and I can recommend it to everyone – as a place to start. However, I decided that it simply wasn’t enough for me to be mindful for ten minutes in the morning and then spend the rest of the day wandering around lost in my thoughts. What I want is to be mindful every moment, with myself, my environment and the people around me. Therefore, I needed more than one routine to constantly bring me back to myself during the day. What helped me personally was a combination of guided meditation with Headspace, focusing and music.
Focusing is a method for looking, feeling and hearing what is going on inside you and for simply being aware of what is rising to the surface now. Whether they be images, words, thoughts or feelings, the point is to let them come and go. I started doing this 8-minute exercise in the morning after my Headspace meditation session. I finished off my morning routine with some music that touched, centered and motivated me.
I found it easier this way to hear the commotion within me, turn it down a notch and, on a good day, maybe even turn it off.
This morning routine is a good start for me to a demanding day and I find I can remain more relaxed and mindful. This is the point of these methods for me: to realize that we can’t (and shouldn’t) change every little thing in our lives. But we can change how we experience things and how we deal with them.
Now that I don’t get lost in my thoughts during the day, but once in a while stop and take a deep breath, I am able to recognize and seize opportunities that I would have otherwise overlooked.
What I can say in conclusion is that the 300 minutes of mindfulness have made me calmer and more relaxed. They have shown me what is good for me. As I was running yesterday, I tried to think of how this challenge has affected my life. It became clear to me that a lot of things, both personal and professional, happened during my month challenge and that I made some important decisions with a calm and clear mind. Who knows if I could have done this without the daily mindfulness practice, but I bet the morning routine influenced me more than I am probably aware.
My coworker Chris said to me at lunch the other day that I now exude an aura of peace and tranquility. Apparently it has started to rub off on my coworkers, too 🙂
I will definitely continue to explore this topic and practice mindfulness – it’s fun getting to know yourself better!