Mindfulness in the West become popular on the back of Eastern spirituality, but has to some extent outgrown those roots. And of course, mindfulness as a word, and as an idea, existed in English long before English speaking people were draw to the East.
Myndfulness, as it was spelled in 1530, refers to a state of being aware (of something), and particularly to the state of remembering. The Sanskrit smriti, which is translated as mindfulness, has much the same meaning. These days we tend to emphasise the first meaning, the state of being aware, rather than the second.
So to be mindful of something simply means to be aware of something, perhaps with shades of carefulness. Be mindful of the ravine to your left, be mindful of your manners… take care, do what you are doing with some thoughtfulness.
We do this all the time. We are always mindful of something. Often it is our own imagination – flights of fancy that drift across the mind. When I drive I am sometimes more mindful of the day ahead and whatever joy or anxiety that might bring, than of the road itself.
If we are all doing it all the time, what’s so special about it? The philosophy of mindfulness says that it is better to deliberately place our attention in some places than in others, and that this kind of awareness is a skill that can be developed.
Mindfulness is a step on the way to getting into the flow of life. What stops us from being in the flow of life is usually the thoughts and self-limiting beliefs that we habitually tell ourselves, often without noticing. Mindfulness offers us a way out (two ways out) of this situation.
If we consciously direct our attention to the world we can break out of our bubble of thoughts and be more in tune with what’s really around us. From noticing the beautiful flowers in our neighbour’s garden, to hearing what our friend is really asking from us.
If we consciously direct our attention inwards we can look at some of those thoughts and beliefs, some of those stories that we tell about ourselves and start to loosen them, and to ask, “What’s really true?”.
Why mindful writing? Simply directing our thoughts or our mind to the world or to ourselves is good but can be difficult. We are distracted by thoughts bubbling up and so on. We are trying to work on our minds with our minds. That’s like using a broken hammer to try and fix the same hammer.
Somehow the act of writing can help us cut through all of this. It’s like using woodglue on the hammer (the metaphor is getting away with me). We seem to write from a place that is less caught up in that bubble of thoughts. If nothing else, when we are writing about the world we can really see when we are doing it and when we are getting distracted – words either appear on the page, or not.
small stones fall into the first type of mindful practice. We give our attention to the world for a few minutes and write down, as accurately as we can, what is there. The splay of a red kite’s wingtips. The rust spots on the underside of the leaves of the rosebush. The contrail that scores the indigo sky with pink.
I like them because they are short (hence the name) and so you can build a daily practice of getting out of yourself and into the world in a few minutes each day. In an ideal world it would soon become second nature, but I confess my own small stone practice often moves forwards in fits and starts.
At Writing Our Way Home we do use the second kind of mindful writing too, most often in our e-courses. We do look at the world in these, at places and people that are significant to us, but we also look at ourselves and work to break out of unhelpful ways of thinking and get more into the flow.
“…every day I was enormously glad of such a small thing. Glad because it slowed down time and opened up a space, and something else, however trivial, entered the picture. Glad because a daily practice, as I knew from meditation practice, is a powerfully strengthening, stabilising, calming thing.”
~Jean Morris writing about her small stone practice
A mindful writing exercise
Have you written a small stone today?
- Grab a paper and pen, or open a blank document on your computer.
- Look up from where you are sitting. Look around the space and give your attention to something. If you have trouble choosing, think, “What can I praise today?”.
- Really give your attention to what you have chosen. What size is it? What colour? What is it like to touch? How does it fit in the world?
- Write down a few lines about what you have observed.
- Give your attention back to what you have chosen. Is it really like what you have written?
- Revise your small stone.
For all posts in this series click here: Kaspa’s Mindful Writing
Image by urbanmuser.