I know, I know, everyone and their dog is tell you to be mindful these days.
Mindfulness is touted as a cure-all, the answer to everything and that can definitely get annoying.
It’s especially annoying when people get pushy and holier-than-thou about mindfulness, acting as if the only key to true living is to follow in their saintly footsteps.
And, of course, they either have no actual advice for how to be more mindful OR they have an extremely expensive program to sell you.
However, despite those jerks, finding ways to be more mindful in your day to day can actually be good for you.
It’s not a cure-all, it’s just helpful, and for most people it will provide a little well-being boost.
Note: I say ‘most people’ because I’m sure that I have read somewhere that meditation/mindfulness can be detrimental for people suffering from some mental health issues. So, I don’t want to be one of those pushy jerks and declare that everyone needs more mindfulness. Just be kind to yourself, whatever that looks like for you.
If you feel like mindfulness would boost your well-being, this month’s calendar from Action for Happiness is a good place to start. It’s not pushy and it’s not selling you anything.
And it’s definitely not holier-than-thou.
Their ‘Mindful March’ tips are all just small things to try each day to add a little mindful moment or two to your routine. Totally doable, at least most days!
I am in Alvarenga, Portugal, a small town of just over 1000 people, about an hour and a half outside of Porto. It’s in the hilly countryside, filled with vineyards and orange and almond trees. I am with 5 other women, traveling on holidays.
There’s a big, award-winning tourist attraction nearby in the town of Arouca, which was developed in 2020. After traversing the world’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge (516 metres), there’s a hikeout out on the Paiva Walkways. It’s about 8 kilometres, almost entirely downhill, on a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks that follow rocky faults on the left bank of a rushing river.
We are 6 relatively healthy middle-age women, wearing multiple merino layers and carrying full water bottles. We are traveling with 40 litre backpacks rather than suitcases. The day we went to Arouca, it was overcast but warm for an average February day in Portugal—perfect for a vigorous hike.
We crossed the bridge just after 11:00am and started out on the downward hike, enjoying the green and rocky scenery. Used to day hikes of greater distance, many of us expected to refresh briefly at the end, then walk back up. As long as we arrived in time the final bridge tours that day, at 2:00 or 3:30pm, once back at the top we were free to recross the bridge at no extra charge. What a fun challenge!
We took our time on the way down, stopping to take photos and to watch rafters and kayakers navigate the white waters below. We nodded at the hikers who passed us going back up the walkway: that would soon be us! Then, suddenly, we were within a kilometre of the hike out exit, and noticed it was nearly 1:45pm.
Would we reverse course and start back up the hilly hike, returning to our start point? Would we shift gears from our leisurely pace and “hoof it” to make sure we would arrive on time to re-cross during the last bridge tour?
We did not, because we knew that we have nothing to prove—to the trail or to each other. Instead of turning around to ascend, we continued downhill at our enjoyable pace, then had a celebratory beverage at the end. Rather than hiking back up, which we probably *could* have done, we took a cab back to our residence to celebrate our achievement—a beautiful day out walking in the Portuguese countryside.
Some days, you can hike downhill all the way and still have a great day.
I went on a retreat this weekend with some friends. It was at a lakeside retreat centre a couple of hours away and the weather was beautiful. I set myself one main goal this weekend, and that was to get enough sleep.
The retreat involved organized sessions that included guided meditations. I like guided meditation especially when it’s “live” and I’m doing it with other people. But this weekend, I uncharacteristically fell asleep through each of the guided meditations. I could feel myself nodding off and there was nothing I could do about it. Obviously, I needed sleep.
This morning I was chatting with my mother, who recently completed a course on mindfulness meditation. I told her that despite the retreat, I was feeling stressed out at work. I really can’t stand complaining about workload because I have a great job and I realize that, but I do feel overwhelmed. But I mentioned this to my mother and she said, “are you practicing mindfulness?” (I love that she took that course and now is offering mindfulness as a solution to stress!).
She’s right that meditation always helps. Even if I just take a few moments of silence, it can bring me into the present moment where things seem a lot more manageable than when I am worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
On the retreat we learned a technique that I have encountered before called “anchoring.” If you’re feeling mental discomfort or distress, think instead of a time when you felt peaceful and content or even joyful. Really focus on that feeling and anchor it somehow (e.g. touching your ring, snapping your fingers, even inhaling an essential oil). If you really connect with that feeling and anchor it in this way, you can use your anchor to bring you back to that sense of peace and contentment when you’re feeling a more negative feeling.
The anchoring meditation was the only guided meditation that I didn’t fall asleep during. To make up for the others, I took a couple of sessions by myself to sit in silence in a beautiful meditation room they have on site, overlooking the lake. It’s called The Oasis, and for some reason no one ever seems to go there. I love it.
So I meditated, I slept, and I anchored. And yet still I came home with an uneasy feeling. I think one reason this happens after a retreat is that, for me, I have a tough time reconciling that sense of peace with the chaotic pace of my day to day life. I got back to town and went straight out to a birthday party, followed by a different celebratory dinner, followed by an event in someone’s honor. Even though these are all good things, the pace of it all reversed the sense of calm because I had to rush around. I fell into bed exhausted, and felt the urgency of the week’s tasks press upon me as soon as I opened my eyes.
The good thing about meditation, sleep, and anchoring is that you don’t need to be at a retreat centre to do them.
What are your go-tos when you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed?