A Mindfulness Exercise That Helps Me Everyday
In stressful situations, or when work or other pressures feel like too much to cope with, this quick and simple mindfulness exercise helps me find my centre.
It is 8.04 a.m. I am in Tokyo, sitting on a lounge chair, typing. I can hear a bird outside, and the sun is warm on my back.
This little description paints a very basic picture of the scene as I sat down to write this piece. But it also represents one of my favourite mindfulness exercises. It takes only a few seconds, but doing it, together with taking a few deep breaths, helps me find my centre, even in the middle of a rough day.
My anxiety issues manifested a few years ago, although they were probably causing problems long before that. I’ve written about the changes I’ve made to deal with them (I’m OK and I Quit Night-Time Meetups) and some of what I’ve learnt about their cause, Part 2, and Part 3, as well as The Aspect of Success No-One Wants To Talk About).
If you have problems with anxiety or stress, then please see a professional. This exercise isn’t a solution for all problems. It’s something that helps me, but it’s not a substitute for therapy or a deeper meditation practice.
Earlier this week, I was having a difficult day. Nothing in particular was wrong, but work and personal matters were pulling me in different directions, fighting for attention during a disrupted day, and I never really got into the flow of things. On the way to buy some groceries for dinner, I did the exercise.
It is 4.47 p.m. I am in Tokyo, walking through a park. I can hear the wind in the trees, the sun is hiding behind some clouds, and the day is starting to cool down.
You’ll notice a similar pattern in this piece to the one at the start. I’ve chosen these moves for very specific reasons.
It is 4.47 p.m. – This isn’t some past moment to be relived or some future moment to be imagined; it is the present moment and it has a name, or at least a set of numbers, to define it. Spend too much time online, or doing email, and it’s almost like being trapped in a casino. You lose track of time and your place in it. Also, it’s such an easy habit to call it a day, good or bad, when there’s often still a lot left to be lived and enjoyed.
I am in Tokyo – Our head is not big enough to contain the whole world, yet we try to cram it all in there anyway, trying to care about everything that’s going on everywhere. By all means be informed, be aware of what’s going on in the world, but also be attentive to where you are.
Walking through a park – You are not weightless software in the virtual cloud. You are a body and the body is doing something. The first step in mindfulness and meditation involves reconnecting with the breath as a reminder that being alive is more than just an idea in our head; it’s actually a bodily thing.
I can hear the wind – Sound is not only something we receive through our sense of hearing; it is something we are incredibly sensitive to. Sound in the form of music is one of the oldest and most powerful forms of human expression. But we are increasingly robotic in the way we perceive it, attuning our experience of sound to the way it is recreated through speakers on computers or in headphones. There’s something almost transcendent in listening attentively to sounds that were not created by technological devices.
The sun is – We are part of something huge and it’s all too easy to forget how marvellous that is. Being aware of the sun (or moon) is cool in a cosmic way, but it also brings with it an awareness of how natural light, heat and cold, the seasons, or the passing of the day are affecting us.
The weather is – The weather is something we experience with our bodies. I’ve come to believe a lot of the tension we experience comes from being so trapped in our heads. We spend so much time indoors and on screens that it’s like our bodies exist just to carry our brain around and to hold our devices. Reminding myself of what my body is currently experiencing is a great segue into taking a few deep breaths and feeling intimately connected to this present moment.
I hope you can try this. And please tell me if it works for you.
The pieces of this mindfulness exercise are simple
What time is it?
Where are you?
What are you doing?
What can you hear?
What is the sun or moon doing?
What is the weather like right now?