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What Is mindfulness?

Einstein used to say that if you can’t explain an idea simply, then you haven’t fully understood what you are talking about. Let’s put this to the test, with the example of mindfulness. What is mindfulness? Can you answer this with just a few words? Let’s make it a bit easier (or harder) by saying that mindfulness is not meditation and it is not any kind of hypnotic trance. Have you made up a simple definition?

Well, mindfulness is about thinking your thoughts and emotions, while they happen. Like you can hack your automated thinking and feeling processes in order to identify patterns, to avoid irrational thoughts and to smoothly talk yourself out of panic and distress. This is why we say that mindfulness is closely related to science, as its starting point is the complexity of mind functions and how it can lead to faulty judgements.

Conditioning, risk aversion, our need to predict the future sometimes based on really poor evidence, there are all processes that we have internalized at early age and now they feed a vicious circle. We regret about the past , we worry about the future and amidst all these we forget to experience the presence. Mindfulness practice teaches us how to connect with the present by focusing (usually) on the breath and then kindly and without judgement to really notice how we feel. During a mindfulness session you will allow your mind to unwind and you will be able to notice your thoughts and their physical manifestations.

What makes mindfulness so valuable is that it resonates with science and spirituality and it is a great approach to dealing with challenging times, to connecting with ourselves and to tame panic and anxiety, by breaking the pattern. So, even if you are not an experienced meditator, the next time you feel anxious or tensed try to focus and your breath, put you hand on your heart and calmly tell yourself “it is just my thoughts and my thoughts can’t hurt me”. The more you practice, the easier will be for you to identify your thoughts and emotions and to label them without criticism or self punishment.

So, mindfulness is a state of better self-understanding that drastically impacts our well-being. Although it is a kind of mental exercise, you won’t need to sweat or to push yourself; it will come naturally, as all things that are right do.

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We are born to be in the nature

Look around you: how much of nature do you see? Perhaps some trees or the sea? Or it is all concrete and urban living? Don’t worry, we also live in the heart of big cities; but is it the optimal state for humans? “Are they going to ask everyone to move in the woods?” you might wonder. Well, no, the solution of a problem is not to move it to a new setting. But, we are designed to live in nature, and there are tones of research to prove it.

Anthropologists and medical researchers have spent years and years living among the indigenous populations of Australia, Peru etc. The role of the observer is to be discrete and avoid any interference, so these outstanding scientists have lived other people’s lives, with sole scope to understand them. As you might predict, life out there is hard and challenging: they work hard, they are awake and moving 15 hours per day, they have limited medical resources. Yet, they have dramatically less cardiovascular problems and minimum depression rates. Why? What do they know that we don’t?

Following these studies, a new stream of thought has been introduced, supporting that Movement Is Medicine. Living close to nature, and following the natural pace of day and night- sleep when it’s dark, wake up when this sun is out- is an optimal state of being for our bodies. The mere exposition to natural light is so beneficial for our neurological system that in our modern life, we tend to consume supplements instead of going for a walk. Being close to the soil, sharing life with trees and animals nurtures our soul and keeps our body vigilant and strong.

You see, civilization is faster paced than biological evolution,  so we live now in the bodies designed for the life of our ancestors. The sooner we realize this, the better our lives will be. In fact, with this inherent need of humans, to be close to nature, we have decided to recreate the VR natural meditations, as it is the next best thing of really being out there.

 

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A trick to stop self criticism

Self-criticism is hard-wired in all of us. As Dr. Rick Handson puts it, our brain is like velcro for negative experiences and like Teflon for positive ones. We are raised to believe that we need to be perfect in everything- like perfection is a state anybody ever had achieved- and we struggle with ourselves and societal standards to thrive in everything. Therefore, our inner voice has an ever-growing repository of mistakes, faults and shortcomings to draw from, designed for each and every occasion we find ourselves in.

 

It is no surprise that we can rarely truly relax and enjoy the moment or even celebrate our success. The inner voice will step in to remind us that we need to be humble, that someone else outperformed us or that there is a new goal we should focus on, immediately. We are not allowed a second to stop and breath with relief. Do you now wonder why you are stressed or why you find it hard to remember the last time you were really happy?  

 

We have a trick and method to make room for self-acceptance and silence the self-criticising voice in your head. First the trick:

 

Give your inner voice a name and a character, make a persona of it. For example, you might decide that your inner voice is a woman called Cruella, she is an art curator and she lives on her own. Or that your inner voice is a spoilt boy, named Alfred, that vindicates with screams and insults rather than arguments. Ok, now you have put a face to your judge. Since our mind is programmed to engage in discussions with other humans- or humanized creatures, like pets- this is the first step to confront your inner voice and input some rational reactions to this emotional state. 

 

Now the method: Whenever this person inside you starts talking, again, be mindful and calm. Notice that “Alfred is here again” and even welcome his presence. Don’t react, just be present and focus on your breath. Allow “Alfred” to say what he wants, thank him for the input and watch him sit in silence. There is nothing more for him to say if you are fully aware of what is going on, right here and now inside your mind. Take a deep breath and take your turn to talk to yourself. With love and kindness, remind yourself that you are doing your best and this more than enough. You are on a journey of self-awareness and no one will stop you from being happy. Not Alfred, not Cruella, not your parents or society. You are you and you are unique. 

 

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We could be trees

They are rooted in the earth, but they look at the sky. They keep a strong, nurturing connection with their surroundings, yet they take different shapes as they grow. Yes, we could be trees; in fact, maybe we should be like them.

Nature is wise and everything is purposeful. Think that nature has “invented” all kind of stuff, thousands of years before humans discover them. A favourite example is the pump: it exists in nature since almost day one, in everyone having a heart, yet people decoded how a pump works around 2000BC. This is one of many evidences that nature is probably wiser than individuals. Of course, we evolve, we procreate, we invent things and we reinvent ourselves; we have new understanding of life and existence and we are more capable now to tackle the meanings that natural systems have to reveal. We also internalize better the principles of ancient civilizations, where nature, elements and animals were sacred- as manifestations of deeper meanings. We belong with nature. All the answers have always been there, but we have been to busy or too much in a hurry to find them. While the trees are there in the most confident and determined way.

Symbolically speaking, the trees show us the way to be: grounded but ambitious. Stable but growing. In touch with whatever gives us life. Yet, the less time we spend in nature, the more distant we become from ourselves and others. Meditation has always been the path to awareness, not because it takes us away but because we learn how to be present. Isn’t this strange in a way? Everything we are seeking is right here, yet we have to walk a long way to get in touch with it.

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Know your emotions

Let’s try a quick check-in on yourself: how are you feeling right now? Is there any thought that bothers you? Or perhaps, you have some physical pain, like your body tries to tell you something? Are you angry or sad? Are you anxious or excited? You might be surprised, but most of the people are unable to name and recognize their emotions. This actually comes as the consequence of not being present and authentically in touch with ourselves.

“Isn’t feeling my emotions enough?”, one might ask. The thing is that sometimes our reactions do not respond to the actual emotion we experience, triggering misunderstandings and misconception. Imagine that you apply for a job that you really like and you eagerly wait for a positive response. But, things go south and you don’t get the job. You might start crying, or naming the HR team names and Comforting yourself by making payback plans.  But, is really anger what you feel in this case? Or could it be disappointment, frustration, bafflement?

To exercise self-soothing, We must first know what are we suffering from. It might seem painful, at first, to face our naked truth but this is always the first step towards healing. Therefore, take some time to reflect upon your emotions. Try to label them and allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of emotions. Then, Be kind to yourself, be supportive and stay away from self-criticism. Give yourself the time and space to feel more, and to be more.

 

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Keeping a journal

Did you keep a journal as child, writing these “dear diary” confessions? Did you ever wonder what makes us so prone to journaling when we were younger and why this urge is suppressed now? As many disciplinaries conclude, keeping a journal is good for the mind and the wellbeing for many different reasons.

Writing down our thoughts, dreams, fears and hypotheses, allows us to put them in order. Usually, mingled, random thinking cause stress as we constantly feel like we have unfinished business. When we keep a journal and we get used to put our thoughts in writing, we help our minds calm and relax. In fact, mindfulness and stress relief are closely related to journaling, as Dr. James Pennebaker’s research has proved. According to him, we even get better immune functions when we express ourselves by writing as we tame the stress and we face old traumas.

When our minds are racing we tend to become irrational, as we base our thinking in far fetched hypotheses that we manage to rationalize. However, these scenarios lose their power when written down as they fail the test of rational thinking. From this aspect, keeping a journal allow us to express our fears and at the same time to understand that they are not real or even possible. Hence, we get to know ourselves better, while self- soothing and calming our brains.

Journals also boost memory and productivity. There is a saying that “smarts write down, idiots remember” that highlights the use to make actual notes rather than mental notes. The mere act of writing imprints our thoughts and ideas in our minds, making the memory last longer. Also, we let go of the burden of remembering (or forgetting) and we help ourselves into a more careless living. Those who keep a dreams journal already know the process of moving ideas from the unconscious to conscious level by writing them- isn’t it a great way to know yourself better and use your inner creativity in your every day life?

Keeping a journal, on the other hand, doesn’t mean you have to be a writer or have exceptional writing skills. It is a private task, nobody will ever judge you for your thoughts and the way you express them. Just find a way that comes handy to you and that it actually feels private and start writing. There are apps, like Journey, you can use, digital notepads, pen and paper, locked journals, napkins or whatever you want. So, don’t waste your time on the practicalities, just find your way and start writing!

 

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