Coming to your senses

Do you also have the feeling that life is knocking loudly on your door again? That the calmness of the last vacation has disappeared abruptly? You might have had some weeks where the only worry you had, was what to eat or what to visit today. And now endless to-do-lists at home and at work appear out of nowhere and make you wake up early in the morning or give you a feeling of worry and anxiety during the day. It is so easy to get sucked into unhelpful work patterns and rumination again.

There is good news: it does not have to be like this all year long. You can apply some simple mindfulness techniques to feel less overwhelmed by everyday pressures and workload. One of the most important strategies is to slow down and pause regularly. Bring your mind to the present moment. If you build in a lot of very small pauses, stress will not have the chance to build up. Here are some ideas.

Set up some mindfulness bells in your life

Last year I went with my husband and children to Plum Village, a mindfulness community in the South of France. It was established by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk originally from Vietnam, who has become an important spiritual leader in the West. The monks and nuns live in simplicity and practice mindfulness in every aspect of their life.

One of the most impressive practices at Plum Village is an enormous bell which is being struck several times a day, inviting everyone in the community - including the guests - to stop what they are doing and to come back to the here and now.

You can listen to the sound of the bell and some chanting by following this link.

The bell invites you to relax your body and to become aware of your breathing. In this way, you can restore your calm and become free from unhelpful habits. This practice has a tremendous impact on everyone.

Last summer there were several hundreds of guests in the summer retreat and it was wonderful to see everyone stopping, breathing and smiling. Faces became softer and shoulders dropped. Especially the children immediately became fans of the practice and even reminded the adults to stop when they forgot. As a result, people even enjoyed their working meditation (everyone at Plum Village gets a small task to perform daily), and deep encounters happened during the retreat.

You do not need to be in Plum Village to do this. You can use the ringing of a telephone, the local church bells, the cry of a baby, or even the sound of fire engines and ambulances as your bells of mindfulness.

With just three conscious breaths, you can release the tensions in your body and mind and return to a calm and clear state of being. The pull of the "doing mode" is very strong. You can easily get sucked into it. But if you install some mindfulness reminders in your day, it can help you to switch to "being mode" from time to time, the mode in which we can rest and recover.

If you are sitting a lot on a desk you could also install an app on your computer or phone with a mindfulness bell to remind you to do some stretching from time to time. You can find some apps on the site of Plum Village

Turn daily tasks into a meditation

Another very helpful practice from Plum Village is eating and doing the dishes in silence. You can taste so much more of your food if you are not distracted by conversations or the internet. Eating in silence and truly tasting, chewing, smelling and looking at the food can be very nourishing, not only for your body, but also for your mind.

And the same applies to doing the dishes. People often think they need to do something special to relax, whereas very often it is just a change of attitude. If you do the dishes (or any other household task) and your mind is preoccupied by worries and to-do-lists it will seem a very boring and maybe even tiring task. This is because your mind is getting tired and stressed from all the worrying. However, if you stop, breathe and bring your mind to the here and now, you will notice that even doing the dishes can be a refreshing and nourishing task. There is so much to be seen, smelled, touched and heard when you do simple household tasks. That is why in Plum Village they call it "dishes meditation".

You can turn every task into a meditation. The key is to simply call your mind as much as possible back to the here and now and to activate your senses. We need to learn, as Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the pioneers of contemporary mindfulness) calls it, to "come to our senses", in both meanings of the word. When you do this on a regular basis, you will find that coming to your senses is relaxing and nourishing, no matter what the task at hand might be. As a consequence, you will be able to see more clearly what is needed as a next step. Sometimes it is continuing to what you were doing before in a more conscious way and sometimes it is taking a pauze and engaging in something more nourishing.