The second of my five rules for a happy and fulfilled life is closely entwined with the first. Awareness, or ‘Mindfulness’ (as it is often referred to in Eastern methodology) simply refers to the art of paying more attention to the present moment – to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world about us. If practised regularly it can certainly improve our overall mental wellbeing, which has to be a good thing doesn’t it?
It can be so easy to rush through life without pausing to notice very much or really see what is going on around us. We get so caught up in our day-to-day pressures, worries and the thoughts that are racing around inside our heads that we often lose touch with the way we’re feeling, or stop to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.
When you break it right down, good mental wellbeing means feeling good about life and yourself, and being able to get on with your life in the way you want to. It’s as simple as that.
We so often mistakenly think about wellbeing in terms of what we have: our job, our income, our home or perhaps our new car, but all the evidence shows that what we do and the way we think has by far the biggest overall impact on our wellbeing.
Becoming more aware of the present moment means waking up to the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that we experience, as well as the thoughts and feelings that we have from one moment to the next. Put simply, it means understanding and being aware of what is going on both inside and outside of ourselves, moment by moment.
Let’s think about what so often happens to us in our every-day lives when we’re not being aware or mindful of each moment. For example: when we’re racing frantically to get to work, when we’re shouting at the kids trying to get them to school, rushing to get a job completed, worrying about that bill that hasn’t been paid, or paying for that holiday we really can’t afford. It consumes us and we stop being mindful of what is really going on around us.
Then we mislay our keys or leave our purse at home and make ourselves late for work. Perhaps someone gets in front of us on the road or takes our parking space and our frustration inevitably increases even more. These small events lead to a range of emotions within us that often run unchecked through our minds, allowing us to become angry at the most inconsequential things.
It is so often then, when we’re distracted by these negative emotions, that we cause the most damage by perhaps driving recklessly, angering others, not working effectively, making bad decisions, failing to notice the hurt on the face of a loved one, or perhaps spot a colleague who’s suffering. So, it is obvious that having a real awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment will put us more in control of our lives and would be a real advantage to each and every one of us.
Awareness of this kind isn’t about trying to change or fix anything; it’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment more clearly. Having a greater awareness of the present moment can help us to enjoy the world around us more, and understand ourselves better. When we become more aware of the present moment, we can begin to experience anew many things in the world that we may have perhaps been taking for granted for many years.
Being mindful also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that constantly run through our heads and to see how we become wrapped up in those thoughts and emotions in ways that are often unhelpful and sometimes quite damaging.
Being aware lets us stand back and look objectively at our thoughts. After a while we will start to see patterns, and gradually, we should be able to train ourselves to spot when our thoughts are taking over and realise that those thoughts do not have to control us.
I’m sure that most of us have issues that we worry about and find hard to let go of. Being aware doesn’t necessarily stop the thoughts but it can help us deal with them far more productively. We aren’t trying to change the thoughts, or argue with them, or even judge them, we are simply being aware and observing them. Once we become aware that the thoughts themselves are affecting our emotions and driving our mood down, we can decide if this is helpful and consciously change the way we feel and react to it.
So, when we’re going about our daily lives, we need to wake up to the world about us and notice the small things. That may seem inconsequential at first, but forcing ourselves to be mindful of all the little sights, sounds and sensations that we experience, and then being aware of the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are running through our minds will help us to interrupt that ‘auto-pilot’ mode most of us settle into every day.
So, stop re-running past events and pre-living future worries, stop being distracted, turn off that ‘auto-pilot’, become ‘Aware’ and free up your mind.