What is Mindful Awareness all about?
Let me spend a few minutes taking you through the process of Mindful Awareness. Call it ‘Mindfulness 101’ if you like. A simple guide to a very simple and rewarding practice which can enhance your everyday life in many ways. By the end of this page I hope you will see why a Gestalt approach to Mindful Awareness has so much more to offer than just ten minutes of being quiet.
I started teaching mindfulness many years ago during my private psychotherapy practice. I would use it to help clients engage with therapy and understand their own thought and action processes better. It was particularly useful in helping trauma clients stay grounded.
Because Gestalt Therapy aims to help raise your awareness of yourself and the way you engage with the world around you, the mindfulness I taught became a Gestalt-based ‘Mindful Awareness’, a mindfulness which can be practiced all day long with far greater awareness from moment to moment. In short, living your life in this moment, right here, right now and understanding it better.
Attention: the key to being present
Everything you perceive through your senses comes via your attention. It lets you know what’s going on in the world around you. It also lets you know what’s going on inside you. Yet most of us give our attention no thought at all. It’s like a window: we look through it, but we never really look at it.
Your attention is key to you being present in your world. And if you don’t manage it, your attention gets to do its own thing, drifting from one thing to another. There are plenty of places for it to drift. Phones, tablets, T.V. Adverts, Kitten videos, the whole of the internet – all wanting to grab your attention.
Because your attention likes to be attached to something, if it’s not focused on the outside, i.e. via your senses, then it gets focused on the inside, ending up on your thoughts.
Thoughts can be very habit forming. We go over them (or versions of them) again and again. When we bring thoughts about work, home life, relationships, past events and traumas into the present they become our current reality.
And with each thought comes a feeling. Emotions like anger, anxiety and grief, emerging as we fret about one thing after another. This can lead to us getting stressed out, wound up and, if it goes on too long, struggling with serious mental health issues.
Getting back to Here and Now
By now you might be thinking that managing your attention can be really difficult. But it’s not. Mindful Awareness is used to help clients stay grounded in the present. And by using your attention, you can practice this very simple technique all day long to improve your awareness and ‘be more now’.
It just take two steps:
Step One. Start by giving yourself permission to stop ‘thinking about things’ for a while. Those nagging little jobs, your problems at work, the stuff going on at home. This might seem a strange thing to do, but we use so many of those little ‘nags’ to stop ourselves from relaxing and getting what we really need.
Let me tell you this, right now:
You Do Not Have To Worry All The Time
None of these things are more important than you are. So be OK with taking some time for you.
Step Two is what you do instead of thinking. The ‘Letting Go’ bit actually happens all by itself when you actively choose to pay attention to something else. And instead of placing your attention on a thought, you place it on a physical sensation.
A small one. A trivial one. Something with little or no emotional meaning. That is to say, something which won’t make you feel stressed, angry or sad. A sight or sound. The taste of chocolate (always popular) or the smell of bread, coffee or fabric.
Or the big one. Touch. Your body is covered with touch sensors. Face, lips, hands, feet, all sorts of places. There’s no end to the bodily sensations available to you. Just pick one and pay attention to it.
Control your attention, Control your life
Mindful Awareness is present-centered attention, focused on the “Right Here, Right Now” of your life. By managing your attention and halting the thinking habit, even for a short while, you help stop these negative emotions from affecting you.
This is how practicing Mindful Awareness can make a difference to your everyday life: Instead of being led by your thoughts and worries, you are able to decide what you want to think, feel and act in ways which suit you better.
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