What does it mean?
Mindfulness, as a word, has always captured my curiosity. I think the reason being, is that I’ve not fully understood it. It gets used in many areas in our lives, such as behavioural models (be mindful) and eating habits (mindful eating). It’s always been a popular word, but no more so now, in the current landscape we’re living in (speaking from a western cultured standpoint) and especially in the wellness space where I reside.
Allow me to zoom out and feed the curiosity machine that I’m faithful, you as a reader of my work, have. I love knowing the origin story, so to add context and layers to this piece of work, I’ve looked at the beginnings of “mindfulness” and it was a bit of awesomeness that I experienced and would like to share with you.
The history of mindfulness can be linked to the yogic practices of the Hindu people. According to historical scholars, it is my understanding that the Hindu religion to have begun somewhere between 2300BC and 1500BC in the Indus Valley, near modern-day Pakistan, therefore preceding Buddhism, which precedes the Buddha himself, which is a fascinating find.
Another find was the word Dhyāna in Hinduism is translated as meditation, and means the contemplation practiced during yoga exercises. It is the method by which one attains samadhi, which is a state of meditative consciousness. This is where the mind becomes still and merges with the object of attention (stillness is the key).
With that curiosity scratched, it doesn’t change your practice. It might influence it, but change it, no, I would hope not because, whatever meditative practice you lean toward, keep leaning. Your practice could be guided meditation, Yoga, breathwork, spiritual meditation or your own version of being present in the moment. The one word that is sure to rise to the surface is mindfulness, which brings us full circle from the popularity piece I wrote above.
Another lens I look at mindfulness from is the fact that I can read about mindfulness, study it to deliver a talk or presentation about it, but I still struggle to articulate it when I get asked “what is mindfulness” … until now.
I need to give you a backstory which will create a context for the above paragraph.
My ancestry is Cypriot. I have traces of Sierra Leone and Liberia running through my DNA, but I’m identified as Greek. So, the dominant language of my upbringing was Greek. Well, actually, it was heavy village Cypriot, but for argument’s sake, let’s just stay with Greek.
Because of the Greek environment, my early school years (state schooling) were pretty difficult. I never recognised it, but it was a culture shock. Certain verbal cues, terms, expressions, and sentences were almost alien to me and because of those missing links, my academia suffered. There’s no blame of culture here, just fact, but what was elementary were the times in class I heard a Greek word spoken through an English tone, my hand would often shoot up to explain the meaning and correct the pronunciation followed by a beam of pride (validation).
That has not changed (the eagerness to correct the delivery of a Greek word) through my years on earth. Proving my point, I’m an advocated listener to Podcasts and whenever there’s a highly educated, well-renowned guest, usually in the psychology, science, or philosophical space, they will talk way above my level of understanding and then, out of nowhere, they would deliver a Greek word which would land right in the sweet spot of the cerebral part of my brain for the eureka moment, which is that I’ve understood exactly what they’ve been talking about for the last five minutes. I still had the audacity, silently to myself, to correct them on their pronunciation of the word 😄.
So, what does this have to do with mindfulness? Well, I was recently listening to a Podcast called The Walled Garden and the host on this occasion was David Alexander (normally the host is Simon Drew), a psychotherapist and he broke down his ideas and practices of mindfulness.
I found the episode intriguing, for it was not only a view from a different lens, but the way he communicated mindfulness was with articulated beauty.
David stated mindfulness was an important step for any journey in self-improvement/growth or the search for wisdom. For the Buddhist, it was the path to self-enlightenment or, as we hear it now (in areas of self-improvement), self-actualisation.
The light bulb lit when he said, for the Stoics, “Prosoke” was the first step towards “Protokan” — the beginning stages for the student studying philosophy.
The sentence above needs elaborating and just like my child state, who was super excited to raise his hands, I now cannot write fast enough to get this ego expressed out (insert smiley-faced emoji).
“Proto” is the Greek word for “first”, hence “the beginning stages”.
“Philo” from Philosophy comes from the Greek word for “love”. The second part, “Sophos”, means wisdom. The love of wisdom.
Now, “Prosoke,” was the word used by the first ancient Greek philosophers, which meant “focused attention.” These philosophers were the first to understand that when you relax your attention for a short while, “don’t imagine that you will be able to recover it whenever you please but bear this in mind, that because of this mistake, which you have made today, your affairs will proceed far worse in every regard. To begin with, and most serious of all, a habit of not paying attention gets created and in the habit of deferring any effort in paying attention,” — Epictetus.
The quote above is longer in its original state, but what I trust is a realisation that this quote is best adopted and raised, through awareness, to be mindful.
Mindful, according to the Ancient Greeks, is “Prosoke”. When I was being raised as a little boy, growing up as an adolescent, and when I transitioned into a parent, my number one word to raise my awareness of danger and deliver the same message to who I was with and to my children was “Proseke”, meaning, BE CAREFUL.
Mindfulness — its essence is the awareness to be careful. I have never looked at mindfulness as that, but it makes absolute sense.
When you are careful, you are cautious, aware, thoughtful, and rational and you are practicing stillness.
“Stillness is the key to movement” — me (another smiley face emoji).
Mindfulness — The practices.
So how do we be mindful?
Well, we practice mindfulness.
And what will that do?
It will help us get better at mindfulness.
And why would we want to get better at mindfulness?
Here’s a repeat of a reason -
When you are careful, you are cautious, aware, thoughtful, and rational and you are practicing stillness.
“Stillness is the key to movement” — my quote (add another smiley face emoji).
So, if you’re up for it, let’s practice stillness.
I’ve researched a few techniques, but the one standout mindful technique is the
5 senses grounding technique.
I’ve adapted this already established technique as the 5–4–3–2–1 coping technique for anxiety.
You don’t need to be anywhere special for this. In fact, where you are now reading this is perfect. If you’re in front of the laptop and you’re in a busy coffee shop, perfect.
If you’re reading this on a mobile device squashed like a sardine on the tube, perfect.
Wherever you are, it doesn’t matter.
Before we take off, let’s taxi your emotional plane through the breath concourse. Pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state.
Are you there yet? Let’s start the ride.
Notice FIVE things you see around you. *Editor’s note. I’m being incredibly obnoxious in thinking everyone can see. You might be blind and listening to this from your audio device. If so, notice where you are. Are you sitting? Is it a chair, stool, or couch? Are you in a room? Are you standing on carpet, etc?
If you have the gift of eyesight, then observation is your first sense of the five — Observe the five things. So, to give you an example, for me, I can see a book as one of my five. The book has a tanned-coloured cover with white and black writing and a gold bookmark tail.
Notice FOUR things you can feel/touch around you. Just noticing your body, bringing awareness to things that are always there, but that we rarely pay attention to, such as your feet inside of your shoes. Describe it as well. Do your feet hurt, etc?
Notice THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. Not what’s going on in your body (like a rumbling stomach), but outside. If you’re in a room with windows, can you hear any noise outside?
Notice TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and the smell that presented itself when you first walked in has now gone. So, a quick tip would be to have a drink and your senses will open and fresh smells will come.
Finally, notice the ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like — gum, coffee, or perhaps the sandwich you had earlier?
So, what are we doing here?
Observing things you don’t normally notice. So, my book, on closer observation, is frayed around the edges and it’s got quite a lot of scuff marks.
Why is that important? It’s the grounding effect. You become more aware of the details, and this allows you to explore different questions, such as (still using the example of my book), how long have I had the book? How many trips has that book been on with me? What emotions had that book stimulated when I’ve read it? Did I hold it with care? Have I written in it? Have I thrown it? What has caused all those scuff marks?
We’re describing what we’re seeing, what we’re touching. Why is that important?
You’re describing it like you were describing it to someone else, so it’s describing it with no judgement, meaning it is what it is. It’s what you’re really seeing.
Carry this describing element through to the feel. You might be feeling some anxiety and by observing it and then describing the feeling, you realise you’re curious to feel and find out where it is, and what this feeling is all about as opposed to judging the feeling and wanting it gone because it’s uncomfortable, and you want it to go away as soon as possible.
Then we shift our mind to the present moment, the listening, the smelling, and the taste.
Being in the now is being present, which, by definition, is a gift. You are the gift and you’re in an environment where the gift keeps on giving.
Practicing the five senses grounding technique helps you get better at discovering the present, which means you’re focusing on stillness.
Now you can keep on moving.
I hope your reading has helped you become, or understand a little more about becoming Mindful, so you can continue your journey to your future self, knowing you already are that person.