by Karen Stanley
How practising mindfulness, particularly in nature, can help us to deal with the stresses of modern life
Have you ever driven somewhere only to realise, upon reaching your destination, that you have no recollection of the journey? Or merrily been driving down a road on the way to visit a friend, before suddenly noticing that you are in fact halfway to work?
We spend such a large proportion of our lives dashing here and there, eager to get things done, eager to tick things off our imaginary list, that we can become occupied with being busy as opposed to getting things done. Just because you are busy doesn’t always mean that you are productive.
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me how much time I previously spent being ridiculously busy while achieving very little. I have learnt that the only things I really care about are my special people. I am definitely not averse to a frivolous shopping trip or a pub lunch but, when all is said and done, I have willingly given those things up in order to keep my loved ones safe and with the promise of real quality time together again. It cannot come a moment too soon.
Mindfulness is a concept that I have discovered almost by accident. It came to me as I walked my dog through the woods or on our beautiful beach, like an epiphany. I soon began to realise how much better I felt in my very soul after a trip to a woodland or listening to the waves gently lapping onto pebbles. Life had slowed down to such a pace that I had little else to do other than take my time.
This is not to say that I am no longer productive or hardworking: in fact, quite the reverse. I often will found be found beavering away at my computer until the wee small hours because I have a burning idea that will not let me rest until it is committed to paper or screen. But what my new-found mindfulness has given me is the permission to take my time. To take a brain break. To take the time to ponder, reflect and marvel at the beauty around me. All of which has been hugely cathartic during these strange and difficult times. And the more I have done this, the less I have been hung up on the small stuff.
Mindfulness is not rocket science: it is, in fact, just paying attention. The act of being mindful involves taking the time to really observe the world around you, using all of your senses, to absorb what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste in your surroundings.
As a writer, being able to describe using “show, don’t tell” requires me to create descriptions that enthuse, inspire and evoke emotion in my readers, and to do that, I must create a vivid mental picture in their imagination. For me, it is difficult to see where mindfulness and writing begin and end, they are so inextricably linked. The skills I use in writing — observation, description, allowing my imagination to wander, absorption and appreciation of my subject — are all tools that I engage when practising mindfulness.
Some of the writers I coach have often worried about finding inspiration or the dreaded writer’s block and I always advise them that inspiration is all around us, if we only take the time to notice and actively allow it in. What you give your time to will grow and flourish, the mind is like that. And of course, this works for both positive and negative thoughts. If you have ever had a disastrous haircut, I guarantee that you will step out of the salon only to discover that everyone around you has great hair! It’s all about what you are subconsciously looking for. Some of my best writing has happened when I am not writing at all. If I have hit a wall in my creativity, I take a break. I eat something nice, have a cuppa, go for a walk, take some time to allow my mind to indulge in some positive daydreaming, breathe in my surroundings. Sometimes this process can be short, sometimes on and off for a few days, but when I come back to write I feel refreshed and re-energised.
I often say to people that if you were a marathon runner — which I most definitely am not! — you would not expect your body to be running a marathon 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and yet we expect our brains to be on call and productive 24/7. Constantly we are silently multi-tasking: working, emailing, planning the evening’s dinner, home-schooling, wondering if we have paid the gas bill… Our brains are never at rest, and yet we are surprised if we become tired or stressed. Brain breaks are crucial for our mental health, our sanity and the ability to really focus on the positive.
There are some great ways to practise mindfulness regardless of where you live, but if you are lucky enough to reside in this beautiful coastal paradise of ours, then I would argue that mindfulness couldn’t be easier to practise. Once you start to practise mindfulness you will soon discover that you will do it without thinking and that, like the good old martini, it can be enjoyed any time, any place, anywhere!
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and writing, then come and join me for a one-hour mindfulness writing session, held on the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm via Zoom. The next session is on Tuesday April 6.
Karen Stanley is a former teacher and deputy head of 20 years and eight times published author. She is passionate about the environment and its impact on wellbeing. She coaches new writers and writes content for organisations both nationally and internationally, and gives motivational talks about writing and mindfulness.
Links: FB @karenstanleyauthor, web: www.karenstanley-author.co.uk.
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