World of Possibilities – A Mindful View of Life
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
How are you feeling right now, reading this? Good, bad, or indifferent? It has to be one doesn’t it? Or to be more specific all you can be feeling at any moment is to be found on an emotional spectrum from absolute joy and happiness through to total despair.
Life feels entirely different depending on where on that spectrum your mind happens to be at that time. Obviously our overall view of life will depend on how many good feelings we experience compared to how many negative ones we endure.
Usually we think that it’s external events that cause our moods and feelings. So a dark, wet, and windy day can make us feel a bit down. Short days and long nights in wintertime can make some people feel less happy. What people say or do to us can make our day light up or feel miserable.
However if we look more closely we start to see that this common way of understanding our emotions doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Nobel Prize-Winner Daniel Kahneman, summed up the findings of years of research as follows: happiness is allocation of attention.
In other words it’s not what happens to you in life. It’s what you do about it. For example when you lose someone you love you can sink in the misery we call grief, or you can bask in the joy we call gratitude. They are both ways anyone can view the loss of someone they loved. So whether a person feels miserable or happy when they lose someone depends on where they place their attention. Grief is placing the attention on the absence of that person in your life from now on. Gratitude is placing the attention of how much joy and love you received from that person for the whole time you knew them.
This sounds easy. Sadly it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it, because it works. It simply takes practice. Practice is precisely the word the field of Mindfulness uses to describe its main techniques. They are practices in allocating attention away from negatives to more pleasant states or feelings.
You can do it right where you are, right now.
Take a few seconds to notice how you are feeling. Most people will feel pretty neutral, but some of you may feel happy about something, or unhappy.
Try not to change it deliberately. Instead think of some thing, person or place you absolutely love. It may be a toy from childhood, a living person you love, or a favourite holiday destination. You choose.
Now – after you’ve read this next part – gently close your eyes and try to bring that thing, person, or place to mind. See if you can picture it. If there’s a smell or taste associated with that thought, allow them to arise in your mind as well. Even better if you can add a sense of touch e.g. The feel of warm sand slipping through your fingers, or some sounds, like the sound of waves on the shore or a favourite song associated with the thing, person or place you love.
See if you can bring this thing to life in your mind and keep it there without any real effort for say twenty, thirty seconds or up to a minute. Then gently open your eyes again.
Now compare how you feel as a result of doing this little practice compared to how you were feeling beforehand.
This is a form of mindfulness. The process is as follows: we notice; then we determine whether what we’ve noticed is good or not so good; from this we can decide to enjoy it all the more if its good, or choose to move our mind to somewhere else if what we notice in unpleasant; finally we do in fact move the mind to something more pleasant.
In other words we have re-allocated our attention and in doing so can change our state of mind.
This takes practice, practice, practice, so don’t give up on it if it doesn’t give you great results when you first start it.
The most common traditional mindfulness is to use the breath. It was supposedly first used by the Buddha 2500 years ago. The story goes that he was trying to understand why his own mind was so negative, and, getting nowhere with it, decided to try a last attempt by noticing every thought and feeling he had in each moment for six whole days. Whenever his mind was distracted he brought his attention back by using noticing his breath as a way to re-stabilise his attention and focus.
What he found, according to these ancient texts, was that focussing on the breath was a really effective way to take the mind from where we wouldn’t want it to be.
After reading the next few sentences try noticing your breath for yourself. Take your attention to just inside the nostrils as that’s a place where the sensations of breathing are strongest and most easily followed. Try and notice as if this is the first time you’ve ever experienced your own breath. Keep your attention clear and light, not forced or reluctant.
Allow your breath to be just a little slower and more relaxed than normal if you can.
Notice that the in-breath feels clear, fresh and enlivening in each moment you breath in. By contrast, notice that the out-breath feels much softer, quiet and unusually peaceful for the whole of the out-breath.
So we have two contrasting sensations: clear, during the in-breath; and peaceful as we breathe out.
These words – and the sensations they represent – are both positive and pleasant to most people. So just enjoy them and notice you are enjoying them. Then slowly take the attention away from the breath.
Doing this each day builds up focus and ability to take our attention away from negative states of mind to more positive ones. It’s simple, it works, but it takes practice. Give it a go!