Living Richly During Challenging Times—Living mindfully through the day
Have you ever started something with the best of intentions, only to struggle to stay with it? Or perhaps you had a strong practice only to have it go off the rails when the situation around you changed? Whether the practice has fully lapsed or is intact but less strongly than you'd like, it's never too late to adjust and get back at it.
Recent upticks in COVID-19 infections as some locations tentatively lift restrictions have added to our understanding of the virus and its spread, but also to our uncertainty about our future. With no clear picture of our future, it can seem harder to find meaning. Being mindfully present in our lives now—the ups, the downs and even the mundane—can greatly increase meaning for us.
The value of living mindfully was reinforced for me during the last few months, as I provided support to two people close to me facing new health issues. One in particular required me to be fully present many times a day in a situation that I had long recognised as intensely emotionally and mentally challenging, and also made it difficult to get sufficient rest. Being honest, my initial attempts to be fully and openly present didn't go so well for the other person or for me…! Two things helped: adjusting when and how I rested (Step 1), and being reminded of the ‘Mindful STOP’. With practice, the ‘Mindful STOP’ has enabled me to be more readily open and present, with better outcomes for both of us.
As a bonus, the frequent ‘Mindful STOP’ practice led to deeper insights about why I find the situation difficult that I've been able to use to move through, enabling me to provide support without feeling drained by my internal challenges.
Whether you're ready to expand your awareness to live mindfully through the day or getting your practice of steps 1–3 back on track, try the ‘Mindful STOP’:
S: Stop. Stop what you're doing. Sit or stand still.
T: Take a breath, or a few if you need to! Exhale fully then allow your in-breath to gently fill your lungs. Make sure you breathe fully into your lungs and not only into the top of your chest.
O: Observe. Observe without judgement as in Step 2. Observe your physical and emotional sensations and your mental state. Some people find it helpful to name their feelings and bodily sensations. Observe your surroundings.
P: Proceed consciously. Once you've completed STO, you're in a better state to decide what to do. You may decide to do something to support yourself, perhaps to take a break, or decide how to respond (rather than reacting) to a person you're interacting with. If you're not quite in that space yet, repeat STO steps.
A good way to start is to practice a ‘Mindful STOP’ when you're about to do something that needs your full attention. At the end of the task, do it again, and reflect on what you notice about the effect of the practice.
Once you're confident with the ‘Mindful STOP’, you can use it at times when you feel deeply challenged, to clear your mind and be more resourceful in dealing with the challenge.
The ‘Mindful STOP’ can also help you stay on track with any new habits or practices you're taking up. And thanks to neuroplasticity, the more you practise the more you strengthen your mental pathways, making the practice easier and more natural.
Tip: If you've been able to keep up your mindfully present practice (even a little), now is a good time to reflect on what has kept you on track, so you can draw on those resources when taking up other new practices.