Cartoon of man with staring eyes

Just take the wake-up call!

In All articles, Mindful living by Norman Lamont

What is it like when you’ve been practising mindfulness for a while?

Cartoon of man with staring eyesYou might think you’re in some heightened sense of awareness. All nerves twitching, all sensory inputs on full . Hearing every sound, seeing every colour. A persistent state like this. “On” all the time. If you were like that you couldn’t function. How could you drive a car? Answer a text? Read a bank statement? Feed the cat?

If it’s not that, are you just very attentive and intentional? I’ve seen people who thought that was what they had to do. They would drink a cup of tea mindfully, which meant very s-l-o-w-l-y with slightly staring eyes. That’s not it either, because that’s trying too hard.

Or is it that you’re acutely aware of all your thoughts? The unconscious is now conscious. Your hidden motivations are all exposed and your executive centre has wrested back control. Like the little pilot in the head of a giant Robot, you’re In Charge.

It’s none of these, although there are elements of all these stories. It’s just more ordinary and more charmed than any of these.

It’s more like this. You’re going about your normal activities, maybe filling in an online form. Your fingers are typing away but mentally you’re wondering how you are going to break it to your partner that you scratched the car on a wall while parking. There’s s scene playing out, not just in your head – the sound of raised voices and mumbled excuses, but right through your body, with fast breathing and cold sweaty hands even as they type your password.

Engraving of vintage phone
Suddenly, without any effort on your part, you get a wake-up call. Some sixth sense breaks the spell for a second and in that second you see a lot of things. Your see where you are. You see the screen in front of you, how it catches the light from the window. You see that you’re playing out this scene from your future. You see how uncomfortable it is. You see the full cup of tea beside the computer and realise it’s been there the whole time and now be cold.

You didn’t decide to ‘wake up’. You didn’t make an effort to haul yourself out of the daydream. You got a wake up call. And here you are. In the next second you have a choice. You can return to the fantasy, to the drama. Often you do that. It’s sometimes easier or more attractive. Dramas like this can be addictive. Or you can let it go, and do something to anchor yourself in the present moment, like take a few deep breaths or get up and stretch. Doing that, you feel a sense of relief, of a burden lifting. You feel refreshed ad realise you’ll get the form filled in quicker if you give it your full attention. Then when it’s done, you can think what to say whe you get home.

You probably know this experience even if you’ve never done mindfulness or meditation practice. And you probably recognise that it’s a beneficial experience, an ‘escape into reality’ from the patterns of thought that cause stress. What the practice aims to give you is

  •  You get the wake up calls more often
  • You are more able to take the call and direct your attention to the moment
  • You are able to recognise patterns of thought and gain some insight into what triggers stress for you.

… and that’s good for you!