One of the things you will notice when you start to practice mindfulness is that there is plenty to laugh at in life.
When I take the time to look into my mind and see what it is up to – I usually find that it is downright hilarious what I am thinking a lot of the time. This is not because i am a comic genius (alas), but because what is going on in there is so unexpectedly bizarre and entertaining.
The practice of mindfulness invites us to step aside and see what is going on in our mind – rather than buying into its often crazy narratives.
These stories: “I am not good enough”; “This project is late! Again”; “Don’t forget to buy mom’s birthday present”; or “That car is going to get in front of you in the traffic, watch out!”; and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, take up a lot of our time. And while thoughts have a useful function – there’s no denying that they help us to stay alive and get things done – they can also make our lives miserable. They can add to our stress.
So what is stress? According to a Univeristy of Massachusetts blogpost, stress is a physical and psychological reaction to issues and events emanating from one’s environment. Perceived obstacles to goal achievement, environmental change, life challenges and periods of significant transition are common stress triggers. All of us experience stress on a regular basis. Most of it is actually positive helping to motivate us. However, like most things in excess, too much stress is negative.
Excessive stress develops slowly over time and often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. It’s as if you are blowing up a balloon; if there is no way for the air to get out of the balloon it will eventually explode in an unpredictable and destructive fashion. There is a lot of that around in the world today and it’s often not that funny!
The good news is that we can learn to manage and maintain stress at healthy levels and mindfulness is one of the practical tools to help us achieve this.
The idea is that by practising mindfulness, we get to recognise the build up of stress (when the balloon is near bursting) and choose to respond to it differently (let out the air).
As Ruby Wax, a comedian who has used mindfulness to manage her severe depression and written a fair amount on the topic says: Learning how to “cool your engines and reboot” is key to mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is understanding what mode you’re in, then making choices either to stay in that mode or pull back,” she explains.
It can be difficult at first – when you start to practice. Like going for a run – the first time you try to run up that hill you don’t get very far. But, bit by bit, you can get stronger. In mindfulness terms, that means that you become more aware of what you are thinking and how you are feeling in the moment – and that means that you can start to change the things that are not helping you.
Part of the trick, is learning to accept what you find inside your mind and not judge what you are thinking and feeling – maybe even laugh at yourself a bit. Recognise that this carnival is all part and parcel of being human. With that comes a certain lightness and playfulness. When we become less attached to our thoughts we can see the funny in things.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness movement in the west, writes in his book Mind Body Medicine: “Acceptance, of course, does not mean passivity or resignation. On the contrary, mindfully accepting what each moment offers, you open yourself to experiencing life much more completely and make it more likely that you will be able to respond effectively to any situation that presents itself. Acceptance offers a way to navigate life’s ups and downs – what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe” – with grace, a sense of humour, and perhaps some understanding of the big picture, what I like to think of as wisdom.”
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness. We are running two introduction to mindfulness sessions this July. A half-day workshop on Saturday 21st and an evening session on Tuesday 24th. Both events are free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org,za for more information. For more events see our Events Page.