“I change myself, I change my world”
- M. K. Ghandi.
These words by Ghandi embody the theme of my article. I want to argue that looking after yourself should come before looking after our beautiful world. When I say 'looking after the world’, I mean helping the environment through our lifestyle choices, although the point I want to make can be applied to other world issues too.
At face value, looking after yourself sounds like common knowledge, right? However, I think we easily forget this--as we are “too busy” trying to solve monumental world issues to focus on our own happiness. Therefore, I want to remind you of a crucial concept: we need to look after ourselves in order to help anyone, or anything, else to the best of our ability. And a great way to 'look after yourself’, from my own recent experience, is to say hello to mindfulness! You may sigh and think ‘oh gosh, not another one talking about mindfulness!’, but hear me out. I think the current craze for practicing mindfulness is partly the result of it being so simple, but also effective and genius. So don’t give up on me just yet.
I have the most amazing opportunity right now to dedicate time to really thinking about how I perceive myself and the outside world. I am very lucky to have this valuable time. That being said, a lack of time is no excuse not to consider the following ideas. Even if you take just 5-10minutes a day to incorporate mindfulness into your hectic life, you will reap many benefits of the practice. Plus, as I was told by a friend, 'if you don’t think you have 10 minutes to set aside for yourself in the day, then you need to set aside an HOUR for it'.
Another way of putting it can be found in a book called 'Follow Your Heart' by Andrew Mathews. He explains that not looking after your mind is like being lost and not bothering to look at a map you have, whilst continuing to run in the same direction. See my point?
What is mindfulness?
If you are unaware of the current craze I spoke of, here is a quick definition to get you up to speed: mindfulness is learning to live in the present. It really is just being more mindful.
Simple, right? But think about how often in your day you multi-task to save time: texting whilst walking, being on social media in lectures, or eating whilst reading an academic paper--I could go on. Our society encourages saving time in any way possible. I want to show you that by taking a few minutes out of your day to slow down and focus on your breathing, you will enhance your ability to multitask when necessary (at work, for example). And I hope it will show you that life is so much better when you are being mindful and "in the moment" rather than doing two things half heartedly.
What mindfulness has also taught me is that there is no reality, only the reality that we create for ourselves. Mindfulness has made me realise how much power we have of our own minds and thoughts. You control how you perceive things--and that is such a powerful piece of knowledge. When I realised I have the power to alter my thoughts and think positively about the myself and my choices, my whole perspective on life changed - and the victim mentality was flushed down the toilet. I wouldn't class myself as someone who blamed circumstance for negative outcomes; however, I would say I have shied away from some opportunities because of certain barriers that kept my rooted in my routine--like my training, money, and other 'ties'. However I have realised that if you want to do something, anything, there is always a way to make it happen. Learning to be adaptable is an amazing life skill.
With this being said, I didn't alter my perspective with the wave of a magic wand, and I realise that altering your perception of yourself and the world is not a quick-fix. Think of it always as a work-in-progress; in a similar way to if you don't exercise your muscles for a while they will become weak, the same applies to our brains and our thoughts. But, if introducing mindfulness daily to your life is going to make you happier in the long run, then isn't it worth it?
What isn’t mindfulness?
I want to quickly diffuse some myths about mindfulness:
Why am I talking to you about mindfulness?
No, I am not a qualified mindfulness teacher - and this I openly admit - but I want to share with you the positive experience I have gone through in hopes that others can benefit from it too. I have read a fair few books on mindfulness, have recently been on a day course on how to introduce mindfulness into your life, and have been speaking to a close friend who has also discovered the benefits of mindfulness. And thus would like to share my findings with you.
So, how do you practise mindfulness?
A mindfulness teacher told me that you need to work your brain like you work your body with exercise and these breathing exercises are like the bicep curls in the gym, but for your brain. View mindfulness as a fun gym-brain-workout! An added plus is that mindfulness is accessible to everyone, because all we need to exercise it is the power of our minds!!
I was taught a number of different techniques including breathing exercises, meditation, and attention exercises. I am going to outline two breathing exercises here. They are both simple and easy to incorporate into your day:
Mindfulness can be be incorporated into daily life too. For example, you can practise mindful walking: focus on the steps you take, your feet hitting the ground, your posture as you walk, and have your head up whilst taking in the surroundings (rather then having your head in your phone, which many of us are guilty of).
You can even include mindfulness into sport! I was taught how to be mindful in swimming, doing so by focusing your attention to the feel of your water on your head, or on your fingers entering the water.
I will admit, initially I struggled to figure out ‘how to do mindfulness right’ before I went on the day mindfulness course, but I then learned that there is no ‘right' way to do it. It is literally just you breathing-- you can’t fail! Try it and see the benefits. I have done at least 10 minutes of mindfulness every day since I went on the course, and it has had such a positive impact on my life so far! There are great apps like 'headspace' which can help talk you through some exercises, if you want some more guidance on where to start.
So how, again, does mindfulness help the environment?
How can I argue this, you may ask? Here is my experience of it…
I have been on and off vegetarian for a few years, because I felt that being a vegetarian could be one way to reduce my carbon footprint on the world. But each time I cut out meat, I became more miserable and tired and felt drained of energy. For some reason being veggie didn't fit with me - even when I tried combatting certain deficiencies that came with it as best I could (taking liquid iron, for example). I had created an internal dilemma in my head that I either have to help the environment and be miserable, or not help the environment but then still be miserable because I wasn't living according to my values!
Mindfulness allowed me to diffuse this internal dilemma that I had created. It taught me that I can change my perception on the situation, still contribute to helping the environment and be happy at the same time!
So, with more research and discussion with close friends on he topic, I am currently not labelling myself as a vegetarian. Instead, I limit the meat I do eat to locally produced organic meats. This means I don't have the tiredness effects, but I am still doing my part to limit my carbon footprint on the environment. So I can be happy AND do my bit for the environment.
Mindfulness allowed me to have a much healthier approach to myself and my choices in life. It made me realise I couldn't go and solve world issues if my head wasn't in the right place, first. Positivity and happiness comes first. Although this may sound obvious to you, it took me 21 years and a mindfulness course to figure it out!
You can’t help the world until you have helped yourself. Being kinder to yourself comes first and focusing on being mindful in life will make you a happier person. From there you have the power to take baby steps to help the environment and save the beautiful world we live in from thoughtless consumerism. Neglecting one's self to put more time into solving world issues may work okay in the short term, but in the long run by approaching lifestyle with a mindful attitude you will create a happiness that is sustainable in more than one way. At the end of the day, we are here to be happy - not to punish ourselves! Most importantly, it is not selfish to set aside time for working on yourself, because it helps you, helps the world and helps others.
So, why not see what this mindfulness malarky is all about?
A positive and bubbly gal from the Lake District, UK, with a love for running in the mountains and doing triathlons. Lauren is currently traveling along the east coast of Australia whilst helping out on farms participating in the WWOOF program.