I was reading the other day about this fantastic bridge, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly for the Garzón lagoon in his native Uruguay. “The concept was to transform a traditional vehicular crossing into an event that reduces the speed of the cars, to provide an opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of an amazing landscape, and at the same time create a pedestrian place in the centre where people can sit, fish, bathe, and stay above the water at a unique point of view,” says Viñoly.
I thought the concept was brilliant. I often observe the obsession we have to get from A to B in the quickest time possible and felt this bridge design was a great idea to get people to slow down and enjoy the view. It got me thinking about how often in life we are focused on the destination. Whether it is a physical, emotional or spiritual end-goal – we often don't take enough time to enjoy the journeys that we take in life.
This past year I have been training in Hypnotherapy and my 3 case studies are due for completion in exactly 1 week. I had been so focused on the end result of becoming qualified and what I was going to do afterwards, that I had actually forgotten to simply enjoy practicing the art of Hypnotherapy itself, the learning process, the benefits I saw in my practice clients, the training from my excellent tutor Sally Benson and time spent studying alongside my fellow, talented students, who are all going to carry on to become excellent counsellors!
Practicing Mindfulness on a daily basis has taught me the value of being present in whatever it is I am doing at that point in time but it's also easy to slip into looking ahead with hope, fear, excitement at what the future might bring. I am the type of person who needs something new, fresh and exciting to look forward to in the future and I think that is only natural, but while I still like to push myself and experiment with new experiences, I am much better about finding the freshness and excitement of being in the present, regardless of what I might be doing at that moment.
You are a unique and inspiring individual. Every moment in your life is also unique, your surroundings, who you are with, what you are doing and should be treasured at that exact point in time. It's why I find it quite tough when I am with someone and they are constantly checking their phone or looking ahead to where they ‘have' to go next – just being present seems so tough for some people. I realise the endorphin rush and addiction a lot of people have from checking their emails, Facebook newsfeeds, texts etc. – I do it myself from time to time but I'm more often than not alone when I do as I feel it's disrespectful to constantly do this when you are with somebody you should be giving your full attention to. You only have to look around at a train, subway station or checkout queue to see how many people are not actually observing their surroundings or other people they may be with, it's quite sad in many ways as I feel it suggests a lack of something in their lives which cannot be found in a small screen.
There has been some research done of college students in the US where they found a connection between Facebook use and rumination. The survey also indicated that Facebook is associated with increased depression, decreased life satisfaction, and increased physical symptoms. I think it's likely we will see a lot more mental health issues related to unusually high levels of social media use and there are already stories I have heard about kids in school self-harming and suffering stress and anxiety through social media comparison.
We can often have a problem in our heads that we turn over and over again and ruminate so much we are actually making the problem much worse. As an example, I was speaking to someone a few months ago who said they used to ask themselves, “Why am I not happy? Is it because of this or that? What if I do this or try this, will I be happier? What is wrong with me? etc. etc.” and it was just a very neurotic, obsessive rumination that was going on in this person's head, pretty much on a daily basis that eventually led to feelings of depression. They said it was not helped by measuring themselves against their friends and colleagues both in person and via social media. They felt they should have had a nicer house, a better car, more close friends, better relationship with their family, a better job, more fun-packed weekends and just be a happier person.
I had similar thoughts when I was younger, not to the extent that this person had, but recognised it was negative self-talk by false comparisons. They had an idea of what happiness and success looked like which was painted a lot by what people were telling them socially, at work or that they were viewing on Facebook feeds. I had suggested that people generally will tell the good stories or what they like in their lives and only paint the very best picture of themselves on social media. It's very hard for people to talk about all the negative things they struggle with both in person and especially so on a wider platform where you can hide away easier.
They had found it very difficult to stop these thoughts which is when I suggested meditation. Now, I won't say it was a magic formula but a few weeks ago I met this person for coffee and although it was not a total transformation in a few months, the differences were quite visible. They had not practiced every day but had done so regularly over a 2-month period including the Breathing Space meditation I covered in this post and the concept of Vedana.
The other practice I had suggested was one I had read or heard about which was that emotions like stress, anxiety and depression are upward-moving, negative energies and that when they were having these type of thoughts that they should do a short body scan where they focused on the lower part of their body, their legs, their feet and this seemed to have worked for this person to shift the thoughts away and the focus to the sensations going on there. It's an excellent technique whenever you are nervous or worried about anything. Distraction is also excellent, whether it be to go watch a movie or read a book.
We also introduced something that I had learned on a recent MBSR course which was to introduce Mindful Moments. so basically when we are brushing our teeth, washing our hair, waiting at a subway platform or in a queue, to simply bring the focus and attention back to the breath and to just really focus on the act of brushing the teeth, washing the hair etc. and notice as much as you can about what you are doing, simply by slowing down and noticing sensations. This has a really, very calming effect and already this person has said that also really seems to be helping and combined with the body scan and breathing exercises, they ruminate far less now and are much happier as a result, even closing down their Facebook account – sorry Mark Zuckerberg!
“As soon as you honour the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the simplest action.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
Whenever I find myself beginning to ruminate or when I feel I am speeding through life or not being Mindful enough I always remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoon “Tortoise Beats Hare” where Bugs got more and more manic and frustrated as the race went on. I then switch back into tortoise-mode and practice mindfulness techniques, there is a lot to be gained from being the tortoise in life. A good website is the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas. They have a great infographic which suggests that being tied to technology, having endless multi-media input, overloading our brains with information and having constant mental work puts us into an ADHD-type state and I firmly believe that. My own personal solution is to limit my time with technology to key times throughout the day, use Social media blockers in my browser, use Ommwriter for blog posts (thanks for the recommendation Chelsea Dinsmore!) and to step away from technology as much as possible to get out in nature, go for a walk, take a yoga class or just read a book. When you have brain downtime, sequentially task instead of inefficient multi-tasking and prioritize, then it can lead to inspired ideas and innovation, so create that space in your mind as often as possible – leave the phone at home if you go out for a meal, just check your social media and email at a few key times each day.
Meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts your immune system and can even change the architecture of your brain. Some people say they are too busy to meditate but there is a famous quote from Gandhi where he was heard to say upon waking, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won't be able to meditate for an hour.”. His friends expressed surprise until he said, “I'll have to meditate for two!”. Those who are busiest need meditation the most and there are no excuses for not being able to find 5, 15, 30 minutes to just sit in silence. I love the book “The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere” by Pico Iyer where he suggests that “Stillness can quicken creativity and open up a way of living that counters the mad rush of our modern lives”. He is part of a great mini-series of Ted Talks about slowing down to enjoy life.
So I'll sign off with a hope that we can all learn to slow down a bit more, appreciate life and those we share it with.
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