Stay focused…the art of mindfulness
On a visit to a school in Uganda, one thing that struck me about the interaction between teachers and their pupils was the way they addressed one another.
No shouting necessary
On our first day, a middle-aged teacher attempted to get the attention of a group of around 70 students. We were in an outdoor area which didn’t allow his voice to travel far.
Instead of shouting at them to be quiet, or angrily threatening extra homework or detention, he questioned, loudly and clearly, “Are you with me? Are we here?”.
After a few moments of fading chatter, the students replied in bored tones – suggesting they were used to this question,“Yes, we are here”.
In directing the students’ attention to the present moment, he managed to get get what he wanted. Rather than calling incessantly for attention and giving them reason to deflect it from him, he succeeded in affirming to the students simply that someone wished to speak to them. He only wanted to ensure they could hear.
Even if his method was a colloquialism of the English language, the effectiveness and accuracy of the phrase stuck in my head. It succeeded in bringing not just the students’ attention to the forefront of the gathering, but the mindsets of all those within range, to the present moment.
There was no room left for daydreaming, for worrying about things that didn’t matter right at that minute. We were there. It didn’t matter that the topic of discussion was merely a description of the events that would be taking place that afternoon – everybody heard it.
The practice of mindfulness aims for the same thing – awareness. It’s a complete awareness and acceptance of yourself and your mind in a certain moment, at that time. It’s being aware of what is happening around you, and noticing your thought processes.
If something unexpected happens – how do you react? How does your brain automatically respond? How often have you later regretted irrational responses, saying things like “I didn’t think that through”, or “I probably shouldn’t have done that”?
Train your brain
Training your brain to think rationally is not something you can achieve overnight. It can take a long, long, time and any number of badly thought-out responses before you finally figure out what works for you. It’s an extremely personal thing and everyone is different.
To even think of forcing thoughts out of your head and coming into your present surroundings is an achievement. It means you’ve become aware of the futility of the thoughts being all mashed up in your brain.
Where is here?
Think of this: right now, you’re sitting (or standing) wherever you are, reading these words off a screen. Maybe you’re scrolling the side bar to go down further, or perhaps you’re glancing up at someone sitting or walking by you. Ultimately you’re expecting to finish this article soon.
You could be already trying to figure out why your thoughts are racing ahead to what you’re going to have for dinner or what to wear tonight. Now you might be kicking yourself for realising the lapse of attention to the present. It’s that simple. You are here right now. Nowhere else.
Awareness is only half the battle however. The most challenging aspect is to actually implement rational thinking into your everyday thoughts and to build a steady practice of routinely checking back with that part of your brain to ensure you’re still here. It’s an ongoing process and one I don’t believe can ever be truly perfected – even by those who are long versed in mindfulness.
Things happen. Things that no amount of judging or guesswork could help you predict. If you’re prone to letting thoughts wander irrationally through everyday problems, then why would you be surprised if you lost control in a moment of crisis?
It’s so important to be aware of yourself and of the way your mind and body work. Ultimately you are the only one who has control over them. Mindfulness is a skill everybody should be able to tap into in a moment of need. Even if you do slip up occasionally, to be able to drag yourself back to the present moment is an achievement. Another obstacle overcome. Now, I’m going to get a hot chocolate in the café outside. Are you with me?