Effortless Mindfulness

The title for this post came to me when I realised nearly a week into a holiday a few years ago that I had been mindful on a near-constant basis for several days in a row. I had not been thinking about home at all, or work, or people not with me at the time or anything else really except for what I was doing in any given moment. Now, this rarely happens for me at home for even as much as a few hours in a row, let alone a few days. So, this led me to wondering what had facilitated it happening on holiday when, because we had been staying with friends, I had not actually been managing to do my usual daily mindfulness meditation practice.

On reflection, I think one of the main reasons mindfulness naturally arose was because, on holiday, it’s very easy to experience what Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Full Catastrophe Living, refers to as ‘beginner’s mind’ – having a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time. Most of the beautiful views I was actually seeing for the first time, so this attitudinal quality was effortlessly present, which was great. Many of the foods I was tasting were also unfamiliar and I had never tried before so I was really paying attention to every mouthful I was eating, experiencing the full flavours. And there were so many amazing experiences that just completely captivated my attention: how could I not be fully present to watching sunrise at the top of a 2200m mountain, snorkelling with sea turtles, feeding and sitting on an elephant and surfing without needing a wetsuit for the first time (awareness of the pain from the jellyfish stings wasn’t quite so pleasant though!)? It was also necessary to be completely present when spending time with a very confident near 3-year-old who was always running off to talk to other children she spotted of her age and trying to open the car doors whilst travelling (the child-locks didn’t always work!). In addition, there were lots of interesting conversations with our friends we hadn’t seen for over 6 months and people we’d never met before which really held my attention.

As people who are familiar with the concept of mindfulness will know, it isn’t necessarily about feeling relaxed or being calm all the time or just noticing the pleasant; it’s more about being aware of how we are actually already feeling in any given moment and being accepting towards this internal experience. Being near-constantly mindful for several days didn’t mean (sadly!) that I didn’t feel occasionally grumpy or irritable or frustrated. But what it did mean was that when these emotions were arising, I knew that was happening, I could acknowledge them without judgement, make some space for them and allow them to be there, without getting caught up in too much thinking about them, until they passed. And it wasn’t ever long before I was absorbed in the next captivating sight or activity again.

Unfortunately, maintaining informal mindfulness after returning to my normal daily routine was much harder! However, the nourishment I experienced from the trip left me feeling far more resourced and resilient for dealing with the busyness of everyday life. And also convinced me of the value of holidays for experiencing this wonderful natural sense of mindfulness.

If you are interested in learning mindfulness, I facilitate an 8-week Mindfulness for Wellbeing Course in Exeter and also offer introductory taster sessions.

* I originally published a variation of this post in January 2015 on the Serenity Wellbeing blog I shared with a friend. It is all my own writing and I have slightly updated for this page.*

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