Mindfulness isn’t just for hippies!

Marie McEntee, Change Facilitator, SLIC Core Team

'Have you heard of mindfulness?' 'Have you ever meditated?' These are questions I’m hearing more and more on the train to and from work… mindfulness has become the ‘new thing to do’, but the majority of people still haven’t heard of it or are really sceptical about it. That was me a year and a half ago but then it all changed!

At the start of 2014, I moved in with a friend and little did I know that she was going to open my mind to something completely new. One day in February, I’d had a particularly tough day in the office and I had a thousand and one thoughts running through my head. So as you do when you get home, I had a moan about how I had too much going on in my head and I didn’t feel able to deal with what was going on up there. As soon as I was finished rambling, she told me I should meditate.  Of course, the thought of meditating conjures up images of sitting cross legged on the floor, with your eyes shut and chanting… it’s safe to say I was pretty sceptical. Not only did I have no idea where to start, but my only other experience of meditation was talking to Buddhist monks when I was travelling around the world… I was thinking to myself ‘Is she serious… normal people don’t meditate!’ So you can probably guess that I dismissed it without giving it a second thought. It took some more moaning sessions about too many things in my head for my friend to really pester me to try it out, so I swallowed my pride and downloaded an app called Headspace that she recommended.

Starting the practice of mindfulness and maintaining it is not easy… so one day I took my lunch to the park (with no monks or chanting in sight), put my earphones in, loaded up Day One on the app and took a step into the unknown. Even though I could tell it was having a positive effect, I lasted only three days before life got in the way and I told myself that I couldn’t fit meditation into my busy lifestyle. I also don’t think I was quite ready to immerse myself in it yet.

After months of not doing any mindfulness, my friend invited me to a meditation retreat… at first I was apprehensive but took the decision to give it a go. To say it was intense would be an understatement… I practiced mindfulness three times a day, sat in silence for hours on end and chanted (yes the old cliché does actually exist). To go from almost nothing to three times a day was really tough but it was what I needed to finally start to understand the attraction of it and the benefits it can have on your life. Spending time at the retreat and with people who had struggled with it in the past made me realise that taking just 10-30 minutes out of my day to concentrate on being in the moment is invaluable.

Today’s world is a frenetic place with everyone trying to fit in so much and I am no different… I am either tied up in work, meeting friends, training for my next half marathon or planning the next adventure but as much as this all sounds like fun… it can become less fun when you are constantly battling a thousand and one disorganised thoughts and struggling to find a way to deal with them all. It’s important to realise that you don’t have to keep analysing the past or plan/worry about the future… those 10 minutes of mindfulness, of being present in that moment, can really help to take you out of that normal cycle. Practicing mindfulness and retraining your brain manage your thoughts better is no easy thing and I will admit that there has been weeks/months where I haven’t practiced but I always come back to the point that it helps me to bring back the focus in my life.

Mindfulness really started to intrigue me and as I read more and more I learned that it can help in so many ways… it reduces anxiety, stress and depression and those who regularly practise are generally happier in themselves and more contented.

As someone who has started on the mindfulness journey and is continuing to practise, without a doubt I can honestly say that you should give it a go… if only once. It may suit you… it may not, but you will only find out if you try. At the end of the day taking 10 minutes out of your daily life is never a bad thing and there is always time to take 10 minutes out. If I leave you with anything, it would be to say forget your preconception of mindfulness and meditation and give it a go… it could change your approach to life for the better as it did for me.