Like putting on a shade of brightness and clarity, mindfulness works in its simplicity.
Years ago, I remember being in Moscow on a prestigious acting course and the teacher asking us pupils ‘When are we truly happy?’. There was a lot of silence and thinking, followed by talking about what happiness is and when is it experienced. Most of us were perplexed. Then a student said that he found himself happy when he was absorbed in a task. The teacher agreed and explained that when we are completely focused in an activity, we are present and therefore happy.
The word mindfulness could be exchanged for presence. Why is the art of being present, the art of happiness?
Another beautiful simple story that explains the answer is the one of the wisewoman and the girl.
A girl asks a wisewoman: ‘Wisewoman, why are you always happy? You never seem distressed or upset or angry. How do you do it?’.
The wisewoman in turn replied:
‘You see, its simple. When you wake up in the morning and have breakfast, you are thinking about your classes and all the things you have to do today. When you walk to school, you are thinking about your work later on today. Then, when you are at work, you are thinking about eating and when your next meal is.’
‘In the morning when I eat my breakfast, I focus on eating. When I am walking to work, I focus on walking. When I am at work, I focus on the task at hand. Wherever I am, I keep my attention rooted in the here and now.’
WHY is it so difficult to stay present?
Because we are untrained. Our mind is used to veering off right, left, up and down. Imagine a busy motorway with cars speeding by, well that’s our mind. The thoughts that we experience often bring our attention out of the present moment and often into the realms of past and future. From the moment that we wake up to the moment that we fall asleep, we usually live in a state of perpetual mental chaos.
Mindfulness is like retraining yourself to focus on one thing at a time. Quintessencially in the here and now. There are many things that are out of our control: the future and what tomorrow may or may not bring. The past. It is gone and done. However the present moment and how we engage with it are completely in our hands as long as we’re skilled in the art of mindfulness.
Aoife is a mindfulness and yoga teacher based in London. Sign up to her newsletter to receive the relax notes – a monthly newsletter with tips to help you stay centered.