Being mode

‘If we’re not careful, it is all too easy to fall into becoming more of a human doing than a human being, and forget who is doing all the doing, and why.’  Jon Kabat Zinn

We are known as human beings, but, as Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, life can sometimes feel more as if we’re ‘human doings’. Our days are filled with tasks we need to accomplish, often with a fair bit of time pressure, and even as we’re ticking off one task we’re already thinking about the next. Where, in this hectic hive of activity, can we find the time to ‘simply be’?

A mindful life is not just about stopping to pause from time to time, grounding ourselves for a few moments in the here and now – although those times are certainly valuable. Mindfulness is about bringing a sense of ‘being’ into all the ‘doing’ aspects of our lives, regardless of whether life is relaxed or hectic right now. So rather than rushing through our tasks half-heartedly, caught up in thoughts about something completely different, we commit to being fully present with whatever we’re doing, whether it’s writing an email, washing the dishes, or crawling along in a traffic jam on the way to an important appointment. Whatever it is, we bring our full attention to the task – we become fully embodied within it.

So what are the challenges to living in this way? It can be interesting to explore these for ourselves. Sometimes we literally have a lot ‘on our minds’, such as anxious thoughts which keep intruding. We may have people who keep distracting us, or constant notifications from our electronic devices. Other times it might feel easier to do something we don’t particularly enjoy with only minimal attention, as if this makes the unpleasant or boring task less real. To be a human ‘doing’ might feel like the path of least resistance, but if we spend a lot of time in this mode, we run the risk of feeling a sense of absence from our own lives.

Mindfulness practice idea:

Each day, choose one unexciting task and turn it into a mindfulness exercise. It could be brushing your teeth, folding and putting away your laundry, or washing the dishes after a meal. Slow down, and allow yourself to experience every aspect of the task, to embody it fully. How does this feel?

Anja Tanhane

What nourishes us?

Wilson't prom beach

Another year draws to a close, and chances are most of us are feeling pretty exhausted by now. Once we’ve survived Christmas, we might be looking to the year ahead, and perhaps start forming some New Year’s resolutions – to lose weight, exercise more, learn Spanish, de-clutter the spare room. All these are no doubt worthy aims, but there is another question which doesn’t tend to make our list – how can I nourish myself better in 2014? Continue reading “What nourishes us?” »

Mindfulness at work – Part 1

Maidenhair and tea pot

Just like the modern lifestyle, the contemporary work environment presents us with unique challenges when it comes to working more mindfully. We may feel we require peace, calm and quiet, not too much stress, and no one around who annoys us, before we can even think about trying to practise mindfulness at work. That is like asking for the waves to stop before we go for a swim in the ocean – we might be waiting for a long time!  As Jon Kabat Zinn puts it,

‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’.

I find maintaining mindfulness at work more difficult than in other settings. It’s interesting to reflect on why this might be so. Many work environments are very busy, with constant demands coming from all directions. Each new demand pulls us further away from being able to focus on the task in front of us. Studies have shown multi-tasking is a myth, and we lose time and efficiency every time we switch tasks. Yet few workplaces are designed to allow us to focus on a job uninterrupted.

Work is also, by its nature, very task-orientated, so it’s natural to slip into ‘doing’ mode and away from ‘being’ mode. We may feel we look like a better employee if we appear busy and rushed – even though we’ve probably all worked with people who race around like a tornado all day and leave behind a string of mistakes for others to sort out.

We may also feel that, because we are being paid to be at work, the time at work is not really our own. To some extent, this is true, in that we can’t simply do whatever we want; but at another level it makes no sense. Yes, we have responsibilities at work, and often little choice about when to carry them out. But during the rest of our lives we also have responsibilities – towards our family, ourselves, neighbours and society. Does this mean the whole of our life is not our own? We may have limited choices about ‘what’ we do, but we always have a choice about ‘how’. The careful attention we bring to a task; the pleasant manner in which we interact with colleagues and clients; the way we look after ourselves by taking a lunch break, grounding ourselves using the breath from time to time; the sense of humour, joy and compassion we cultivate – these all belong to us, and make a significant difference to who we are as employers and employees, and also to our effectiveness at work.


Weekly practice idea:

Explore the ‘being’ mode at work or when doing tasks at home. How does it feel to be completing a task, and staying grounded and present throughout.

Anja Tanhane