I was in a Miami book shop in early 2007 and I came across Jeffrey Brantley’s book ‘Calming Your Anxious Mind’. The title of the book really called out to me at that time but little did I realise both that the book was essentially about mindfulness and how life-changing the book would be. I had always considered myself to be an ‘anxious’ person but, before I started to practise mindfulness, I didn’t realise that this was largely because I simply did not have the skills to know how to lean into the full range of human emotions, particularly those that I found difficult. Essentially practising mindfulness has given me these skills and it has been life-changing, not least because I no longer label myself as ‘anxious’ or indeed as any other human emotion. After over 10 years of practising mindfulness I believe that I have learned to become a more skilful surfer of life’s waves!
I consider it a privilege to teach mindfulness. Obviously I enjoy noticing gentle changes in participants that inevitably occur during and after an 8 week course. But for me the enjoyment of teaching mindfulness is more fundamental. It is about the satisfaction of creating a safe and supportive space in which we can come together as a group to explore, to share and to learn to kindly accept what it means to be human, for at its heart this is what mindfulness is about.
In addition to a daily formal practice I often use a breathing space to help me when I feel under pressure or when I become aware that I have become stuck in ‘doing’ mode. But more than that my mindfulness practice has enabled me to develop the skills to drop into any moment during my day, in particular those moments that perhaps previously I would have written off as ‘dead’ or ‘irritating’ time, for example standing in a queue at the supermarket or being stuck in a traffic jam or on a train. For me the gift of mindfulness is being able to inhabit more fully those moments in particular.
Go gently! If we are suffering then there’s a tendency to want to grasp at mindfulness as a ‘quick fix’ whereas mindfulness invites us to make a more fundamental shift in how we inhabit and relate to our lives. Years of learned behaviour cannot and will not change over night and I would argue also that long-lasting change cannot come from reading a mindfulness book. So perhaps my best advice would be to start slowly with something like the Headspace app and then, if possible, to seek out a local mindfulness course and group run by a properly trained mindfulness teacher.