So, you've made it. A year of hard work and stress, with barely a break. But finally - that thing at work taken care of - a train, a flight and a cab ride later, you're on HOLIDAY! You stroll down to the beach and, sand under foot, your first sunset in god-knows-how-long.
As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, suddenly a thought creeps in: am I appreciating this moment? Oh no! Am I? What if I'm not? What if I forget to remember to pay attention to the sunset? Should I take a picture? Should I take a moment to think about the poor sods stuck back at the office? Oh god.
The Eastern Buddhist philosophy, secularised and repurposed, is now gaining real traction in companies, schools and even prisons across the West. In the words of Mindfulness guru Jon Kabot-Zinn, it's about paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
NABS (the charity for the advertising and media industry), has been running Mindfulness workshops with practitioner and coach, Graham Lee. In a recent workshop, he explained that if we pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and sensations we can begin to appreciate every moment, every sunset.
With Mindfulness, we can learn to value those transient instants that can be all too often fleeting, by being fully aware of ourselves. To really notice our breath, sights, smells, sounds; the things that we'd ordinarily take for granted. To let go of our distractions, not by ignoring them, but by gently accepting them (or as one participant put it, 'quelling all the mind chatter').
Kabot-Zinn says: "The little things? The little moments? They aren't little."
So what's the difference between Mindfulness and plain old self-awareness? Lee explained that to be self-aware is to say: "I'm feeling stressed", but to be Mindful is to say: "there is stress". The subtle difference is the way we observe, accept and embrace our thoughts. It gives us the perspective and control to embrace the positive and let go of the negative.
Lee tries to demonstrate the attention required to be Mindful by handing us each a raisin. "Now be aware of your thoughts", he instructs us. And so this happens:
"Observe the raisin" he commands, "How does the raisin feel in your hand?"
It feels... I dunno, it feels... oh my phone's vibrating.
"Role it between your fingers, what sensations does it give you?"
A car goes by outside.
"Smell the raisin"
Smells like school lunchboxes.
"Put the raisin to your ear, do you hear anything?"
What? No. it's a raisin.
"Now put it in your mouth" Ah, finally! "How does it taste?"
Uch! Who keeps Whatsapp'ing me? Go away, I'm trying to observe this raisin!
But, that's the point, isn't it?
Sure, it's just a raisin, but if we can't just learn to appreciate the tiny things from time-to-time, how can we expect to appreciate the sunsets?
Someone in the room points out that was the best tasting raisin he's ever had, Lee calls it the 'raisin experience' and I smile, as ridiculous as it felt to listen to a raisin, there's definitely something in this Mindfulness lark! What's more, Mindfulness is scientifically proven and an asset to working life. It's backed up by research which shows that it can improve productivity, concentration and resilience to stress.
Daniel J. Siegel, Director of the Mindsight Institute puts it nicely: Mindfulness is waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences.
So let's learn to be more accepting of our thoughts, to appreciate the small things in life a little more, and be fully 'in' our moments, be they raisins or sunsets.
Oh no... that thing at work!