Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)

Part IV. DECLUTTERING YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Simplify Your Actions

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it’s the axis on which the earth revolves–slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”

 Thích Nhat Hanh

What if you could always be in the state of flow described earlier, where time disappears and you are one with the activity? Perhaps this would be a blissful, transformative state to live in—but you might starve, forget to pay your bills, and neglect to shower.

Real life requires that you deal with the more mundane but necessary activities of daily survival in an organized society. They are the tasks we try to “get through” in order to enjoy the real excitement of life, whatever that happens to be for you.

Unless you’re a cave dweller or live in a monastery, these “real-life” obligations take up a lot of time and energy. Even if you can cut back on these tasks, you can’t escape all of them without some unpleasant consequences.

But maybe escaping them really isn’t necessary in order to declutter your mind and enjoy more of life. What if you brought mindfulness to everything you do, including the unpleasant, boring, or neutral activities of ordinary life?

As Thích Nhat Hanh suggests in the quote above, rather than slurping down your tea while thinking about all you have to do today, shift your perspective to see drinking your tea as the only important thing in the world (while you are drinking it). This shift would apply to everything you do—from washing the dishes to cleaning out the cat box.

Maybe you don’t want to be present when cleaning the cat box, but presence is the state of mind you want to seek in everything you do.

Is it possible to be present all of the time? Not really. But you can try. And if you succeed in living mindfully just a little more often, you’ll discover that the joy and peace you seek is at your fingertips all the time.

Let’s examine five ways you can bring mindfulness into your daily life to become present and aware even during the most mundane activities.

#1. Eat meals mindfully.

Once upon a time, people used to spend hours producing and preparing food. They would stop in the middle of a day for a big meal called “dinner,” when everyone would leave work and sit down together to eat. Later on, dinner happened in the evening, but still it was an occasion when people sat together and spent time eating and talking.

With the advent of fast food, technology, and multi-tasking, eating is often relegated to a quick meal between obligations, something necessary to keep us fueled for our over-scheduled lives. Not only do we neglect the ritual of family meals, but too often we overlook the simple joy of eating.

We may not have as much time to focus on food preparation as our grandmothers did, but we can be mindful of the food we eat and how we experience a meal. This means not eating in front of the TV or computer, but rather sitting with your family or alone in a quiet, distraction-free place.

Here are a few thoughts on mindful eating:

·                   Before you eat, look at the food and notice the colors, smells, and textures.

·                   Close your eyes and breathe in the aromas.

·                   Notice your own hunger and urge to eat.

·                   When you put the first bite of food into your mouth, notice the immediate tastes and sensations.

·                   As you chew, notice how the tastes might change or expand.

·                   Chew and swallow your food slowly, with a thought of gratitude for the hands that prepared it.

·                   As you continue to eat, notice how your stomach feels as you satiate your appetite.

·                   Be aware of feeling full, and cease eating when you are. Don’t feel obliged to overeat in order to clean your plate.

·                   After you finish the meal, sit for a few moments and digest your food.

·                   After the meal, mindfully wash your plate and utensils and put them away.

When you eat mindfully, not only will you savor the experience of eating, but you’ll also support proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Studies show eating slowly leads to improved satiety and reduced calorie intake.

#2. Clean your house mindfully.

Thích Nhat Hanh has said that he washes dishes with as much care as if he were bathing the newborn Buddha: “If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, then I will be incapable of drinking the tea joyfully.”

Rather than organizing your house as a means to a decluttered mind, focus on the doing rather than the getting it done. Cleaning won’t magically become an elevated experience, but you will be elevated by simply paying attention to the elegant cause and effect of cleaning. Try to see housecleaning as a laboratory for being present and engaged in life.

This mind shift can be applied to any routine task—washing your car, mowing the lawn, or even paying the bills. You can approach these tasks with dread and resentment, or you can approach them with your full attention and a sense of gratitude that you are able to accomplish them, that they improve your life, and that, however insignificant, they are worthy of your time.

#3. Walk mindfully.

As Barrie writes in her book Peace of Mindfulness , “Taking a walk, you can be mindful by listening intently to your feet hitting the ground, and the sounds of nature around you. Take in the scenery you observe, the feeling of the warm or cool air, and the smells of being outside.”

Wherever you are walking (either indoors or out), whatever your destination, pay attention along the way. You don’t have to hustle along with your eye on the outcome. Let walking be the destination.

#4. Experience nature mindfully.

Numerous studies have shown the mental and physical benefits of spending time in nature. Being in forests and green spaces can:

·                   Boost the immune system

·                   Lower blood pressure

·                   Reduce stress

·                   Improve your mood

·                   Increase your ability to focus

·                   Accelerate recovery from surgery or illness

·                   Increase your energy level

·                   Improve your sleep

You will experience these benefits simply by taking a walk in nature or sitting quietly in a forest. But when you approach your experience of nature mindfully, you’ll enhance the benefits—particularly related to stress reduction, mood, and focus.

When you spend time in nature, try to pay attention with all of your senses to be fully present and attentive to your surroundings.

Listen… to the sounds of the birds, the leaves rustling in the trees, the water running over stones.

See …the sunlight and shadows, the tiny wildflowers on the forest floor, the hawk flying in circles overhead.

Smell …the earthy scent of rotting leaves, the fragrance of honeysuckle, the aroma of a recent rain shower.

The experience of being in green spaces and forests is so powerful and mind-clearing that it should be part of your Declutter Your Mind practice.

#5. Exercise mindfully.

The benefits of exercise are so numerous we could fill an entire book with them. The physical benefits are obvious, but related to your mental declutter efforts, exercise has some profound psychological benefits as well.

Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University in an article for the American Psychological Association, says “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

The article goes on to say that studies confirm exercise can treat and perhaps prevent anxiety and depression, both of which are potential outcomes of mental clutter, distraction, and rumination.

Even with the overwhelming evidence that exercise makes you healthier, fitter, and happier, most people avoid it like the plague. Exercise can feel like a chore at best, and like physical torture to some people. Part of the problem is the way we approach exercise. We see it as a means to an end—to lose weight, to manage stress, or to prevent disease.

We’ve learned that once you remove judgment, attachments, and fear from the equation, fitness can be something to look forward to rather than an obligation you dread. You no longer anticipate the discomfort, think constantly about quitting, or judge your results. You simply engage in mindful movement, pushing yourself slightly to improve each time, while paying full attention to your body.

No matter what activity or sport you practice, you can incorporate mindfulness into your practice to maximize a clear, focused mind.

Try these ideas:

Pay attention to your body.

As you start your exercise practice, pay attention to the placement of your body. Is your posture correct? Is everything aligned as it should be around your core?

Your core is the center of strength and support, and for it to operate efficiently, your body must be aligned, with your back straight, shoulders back, and head held high (unless the exercise calls for something else).

Allow your core do most of the work, while your limbs are fluid and relaxed. Even if you’re lifting weights with your arms or legs, engage your core to add power to your limbs. As you exercise, focus on engaging your core, and envision an imaginary steel rod keeping your body in proper alignment.

Focus on how your body feels. Are you experiencing any pain or discomfort? Without reacting to the feelings, simply identify them. “My knees are hurting. I’m having trouble catching my breath. It’s hot out here.” Try not to resist or fear any pain or discomfort, but rather breathe into it and visualize it relaxing.

Picture sending energy or power to whatever part of your body is performing the work of the exercise. If several parts are moving at once, spread the energy throughout your body.

Find your anchor.

Once you are in the groove of the movements of your exercise, find an anchor to hold your focus. Place your attention on your breathing, the sounds of nature, or a mantra you repeat to yourself. For example, while running, you could focus on the sound of your feet hitting the pavement. You could also mentally repeat a mantra or affirmation that matches your breathing pattern.

During strength training exercises, vividly focus on the muscles you’re training and the energy surrounding those areas. Follow your breathing, breathe out as you lift or engage the weight, and breathe in when you lower it. Stay focused on your breathing, even in between lifts.

When thoughts intrude, just return your attention back to your mantra or breathing, or take a moment to access how your body feels and adjust or relax as necessary. Then go back to breathing or your mantra.

Notice your environment.

No matter where you are exercising (indoors or out), pay attention to the temperature, sights, sounds, smells, and any other sensory perceptions that impact your experience. Pull your focus from inside of you to your surroundings and notice everything around you.

If you are outside, allow yourself to enjoy the dual psychological benefits of being in nature and exercising as you give your full attention to your surroundings.

Every moment of every day, you can easily be sucked back into the vortex of your thoughts and distractions. You can be staring at a glorious star-filled sky or putting dishes in the dishwasher and be completely unconscious of the experience because of your cluttered mind.

Sholto Radford, founder of Wilderness Minds retreats, says “The practice of mindfulness invites us to let go of goals and expectations and see what emerges in the space left when the striving mind quiets for a moment.”

Your job is to awaken, even if it’s for just a few moments every day, to truly experience your experiences—to be fully present and aware rather than tangled up in your thoughts and worries. With practice and time, you’ll find returning to the present moment becomes more automatic. And the more you return to it, the more life you are actually living.