My Mindful Week- Day 7: Dealing with Materialism

It’s a lazy Sunday evening and you’ve just finished a great movie with your friends. You intend to go home but something sparkling caught your attention from the shop window on your left. You turned around and there it was, lying so gracefully, a wristwatch you’ve been drooling all over ever since it was out.

Why are we so attracted to things, especially if they are expensive? It’s one thing to want to own something because it’s practical, but it’s another thing altogether to hoard 2 closets full of brand clothes that you don’t even have the occasion to wear.

Why are you slaving your days away just to get yet another new iPhone just for internet and calling like your last iPhone?

Why should you spend 8 hours a day sitting in front of a computer like a zombie just to afford a brand new hybrid car in 8 years?

The thing is that we chase these things because we think they might give us happiness. While I do agree material comfort does give us happiness to a certain level (I mean, you can’t be exactly happy without food in your mouth and a roof over your head), but materialism is just way too much.

You know in the deepest crevices of your brain that it’s not the right thing to spend 2,000 bucks on a bike, but your heart gives a flutter when you see it.  When there’s a conflict between the mind and heart, that’s when mindfulness comes into play. Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with the urge to splash my paycheck for things I don’t even need using mindfulness:

  • Spend some time just sit and breathe.
  • While breathing, think of how everything is subjected to impermanence and change. Your house might be blown away by a hurricane or bombed to dust in an air strike. Your beloved car might just be stolen tomorrow, and your clothes may all be consumed by a house fire. If these things are very unlikely, just think about once you’re dead, they are not yours anymore.
  • While meditating on the changing nature of ownership, continue to keep tap of your breathing. It is essential to not lose sight of yourself among all these imaginings. If you’ve strayed, don’t blame yourself. Gently nudge your attention back to breathing and imagining.
  • Realize that the only thing that you will always own in your life is your body, and subsequently your mind. That’s it. You don’t need a lot to be happy. Having many things actually generate more anxieties as you fret over ways you might lost them in the future. You just need to be a friend to yourself to be happier. Materialism is all about showing your worth and status to other people.
    Why so?
    You want validation from them.
    You want them to think you’re worthy. In a previous post, social validation has been promptly dealt with, so I will just tell you what I’ve learned here. It’s this: when you seek validation from people, you’re handing a key to them while locking yourself up in a cage. When you stop seeking acceptance from them, and be content with what you have? That’s when you break the cage and boy is it a sweet feeling.
  • Look back into all the stuff that you own. Which ones do you really need and which ones you wanted just to appear in a better light in the eyes of others? Maybe it’s about time to get rid of them.
  • Every time you are about to buy something, ask yourself the same thing. Do you really need it to fulfill your basic needs, or are you doing it to get accepted?

Well, that’s about it. I’m proud of you for making it this far! Again, you are going to struggle being mindful and it’s natural to feel frustrated (and yell about at yourself for being such a loser, or was it just me?), but please, realize that mindfulness is a life change! Be patient with yourself. When you’ve strayed, just gently come back. My posts will always be here for you.

My Mindful Week- Day 6: Listening in Relationships

I’m not sure about the past (since I was not around to witness it), but many people today listen just so they can retort. If they are not subtle about their self-centered tendencies, they would just reply back with most of the times irrelevant information about themselves.

  • “Hey, so my dog just died.”
  • “Oh? My pet lizard died ten years ago and till this day, I’m still hurt. I actually had her skin preserved. Do you want to see the pictures? I can even bring her the next time we meet.”

Maybe not this exaggerated, but you know the drill.

Even the most selfless among us have the habit of listening to give advice, console or comfort.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but some situations require not a wise pair of lips, but an understanding pair of ears. I’m sure you have had this experience, the feeling of a burden being practically moved from your chest just by ranting to another person even if that person did not give you any advice.

We all know the old adage of how communication is the key to relationships, but listening is the key to communication. Mindful listening aims to extend our non-judgmental listening of our own thoughts and feelings, to another living being.

The goal is to just listen, not to reply, to correct, or to give advice, but just simply listen. It’s extremely handy especially when one or both ends of the conversation happen to be emotionally charged. Rational approach of the situation can come later, but currently emotionally aggravated cases call for compassionate ears (pun intended).

Here is how to inject a bit of mindfulness into your conversations:

  1. Breathe in and out. This is the most important part. Keep tap of breathing even and especially when you are listening.
  2. Maintain a half-smile will help too (especially when the other party is sorta mad at us).
  3. Listen to the other person. Don’t try to come up with a reply. Just simply listen and imagine the things they are describing.
  4. Keep tap of your breathing the whole way through.
  5. Viola, you’re done.

I know it sounds very simple, but it works like magic. I remember being very mad at my students who decided to plagiarize in my writing class when the only rule I enforced was to not cheat their souls in writing. When I found out, I felt incredibly affronted as if they deliberately intended to hurt me! Thankfully, I could not express my anger right away because classes wouldn’t start until that evening which gave me half a day to cool down, so I decided to take a mindfulness approach in questioning them instead of ugly sobbing and yelling about artist integrity.

During the whole conversation, I kept my feelings to myself and sought to solely listen to their sides of the story. One was too stressed with exams; the other with homework. Just sitting there, listening to their stories have curiously made me happier. I can still recall the feeling; it was like having a flower bloom in your heart; you just feel so much compassion for the people in front of you, you know (God knows I’ve had enough stress with exams and homework too). Before the conversation, I only expected mindful listening to prevent me from lashing out; by the end of the talk, I was not only calm, but even a little happy.

It’s such a curious turn of events, and if you don’t buy it, try it out for yourself! In your next conversation, pretend to have lost your voice for a change and listen for the sake of listening only. You might just end up with an expected golden rose in your chest!

My Mindful Week- Day 4: Dealing with Technology Overload

Ping! “You’ve got a message from Dalin.”

Ping! “Ik_39483 just liked your Instagram post.”

Ping! “A: hey, I have something to talk to you.”
Ping! “Your boss just sent you yet another email.”

 

Living in this world of constant notifications, one can feel very overwhelmed from time to time. It seems as if these apps are always watching your every move, tempting you to record your moments and share them to the world. You don’t have enough time to simply just “be”- just sit and enjoy your sunbathing, or just have a nice chat with friends without having the urge to post a selfie with them with the hashtag #frienshipgoal.

Not only that, sometimes you feel like you don’t have enough time to be with yourself. It seems like there are hundred of urgent issues waiting for you to act and God forbid something very bad might happen during that 10 minutes you don’t check your newsfeed!

This technology is supposed to make you stay connected, but you feel further and further apart from yourself. There’s just simply no time to reflect before the next email arrives.

If you feel like life is slipping by so fast on your screen and you’re just there, a passive fish in the grand river of life, I would suggest you to do these (as it worked for me):

  1. Live slower: yup. Take a deep breathe in right now and look around you. Notice the lights, and objects and even people around you. You might be in bed, cozying it up in your blankets, then just notice how the night air feels this particular day; or how the streetlight hits your glassy bedroom window. When you eat, try to really taste each morsel of the food instead of hurrying to fork it down your throat just to get it over with. You clean your dish very fast because you want to drink a cup of tea afterwards. But when you get to your cup of tea, you don’t drink it peacefully, no, you gulp it down just so you can get out of the house after. But when you’re on your motorbike, making your way among the streets, you don’t do it slowly and enjoy life. Instead, you go full speed with constant honking to get to your destination. I don’t really need to go on because this is a cycle. You are always hurrying this moment for the next moment thinking that you’ll enjoy it more. But when you arrive at that next moment, you will hurry it to get to the next next moment, thinking you will finally enjoy it more. This goes on and on and on until one day, death comes, the final of all moments and you realize you have wasted your entire life chasing death.
  2. Have a no-technology period: you can start by allotting certain times of the day to turn off all your notifications. Truth be told, most of the things you think need you urgently don’t really need you that urgently. If you can’t do the job, others can. For the sake of your own peace, turn the damn notifications off. If people could live by waiting for three months to get a notification (by the form of mails) before, then so can you! You can maybe make sure you turn off your devices by dinner time, or you can go a step further and organize a iSabbath day. On that day (maybe a Saturday or Sunday), you just turn your phone and wifi off. No internet, no device, just you and your life. You can stay at home, read a book, or lounge around, or you can grab your backpack and explore the city for the whole day, spend the afternoon in a random coffee shop where you can’t check in. OR you can go another step further and not having a smartphone altogether. I took that leap of faith and it was one of the best decisions I’ve done (read it here). It’s made my life more peaceful and less demanding, but of course, it depends on your life and what you need internet for. The bottom-line is you should have some regular off-line time for yourself and your own damn life.
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  3. Go back to your island: it’s very tempting when the sun is out, you’re on your good hair day to snap a selfie and show yourself off. That’s fine, but when you constantly bombard your feed with 10 selfies a day and snapchatting every single activity you do in any given day, you might need to take a step back and ask yourself why the heck are you doing this? You know the need to share pieces of our lives on the internet is a very simple manifestation of the needs for social validation in the age of technology. (read the previous post of this series for how to deal with the need for social approval here). Breathe in and out. Imagine yourself as an island. You’re going back to your island, and honestly, the only validation you need is from yourself. I like spending an exuberant amount of time just imagining that island of self-contentment and honestly? It’s a much better way to spend time than it may seem.

 

 

My Mindful Week- Day 3: Dealing with Social Validation

You don’t want to be doing this, really, you don’t, but your finger itches and you’ve gotta snap that yummy home-made lunch of yours and post it to Instagram before it’s ruined. It’s great day, gathering up with your close mates, and you feel like you’ve gotta show everyone how great your hang out has been.

Where does this need for social validation come from? The need for others to perceive us as cool, hip, or simply good? These attempts don’t just happen in social media (although God knows it’s compounded in this platform), but it happens in our social life as well.

We fret over our outfit before going to a social event.

We spend hours putting together a cool outfit just to change our minds at the last second for fear of being judged.

Sometimes, we overshare too much of our achievements and accomplishments in a first meeting out of insecurity.

We buy that 5-thousand-dollar bike to impress our biking group members even though we’re pretty sure our old bike did just fine to our liking.

You know, the fear of being judged, the need to impress, to boast, these all stem from our need to be socially validated, to be patted on the head for conforming to a certain norm in a certain group.

And before you get all toasty and claim you’re a hipster who follows no rules, let me make it clear. It doesn’t have to be a norm that the majority follows. Whether you admit it or not, we all do this, but maybe with different groups. Even the hipsters who claim to follow no rules actually follow the rules of hipsters. (flashback to all the hipster mustache, glasses and boots).

Yup. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It’s just in our nature to want to belong to a certain group of people, and it’s useless to claim otherwise. However, it’s helpful to be aware of just which of our activities are being influenced by this need and whether we really truly want to do it or not.

Mindfulness can come in handy and here’s how I’ve used it to weed out the activities I truly enjoy and those that I do to just seem as cool:

  1. Look deep into the nature of the need for social validation. The thing is when you look deep enough into any negative emotions, it usually comes from fear. And when you zoom in enough into your fears, it all comes down to two major fears that every mortal have: a/ the fear of dying and b/ the fear of being alone. Actually, the second major fear, I think, also stems from the first major fear. When you are alone with no one to help you, your chance of surviving is likely diminished, so that’s why humans have this need to fit in, to belong to a group. As you look deep into that fear, continue to breathe in and out and just acknowledge that fear inside you.
  2. Look deep into each action and the group you’re trying to seek validation from. Don’t judge yourself for this. Just look. For example, I, myself had doubts about my enjoyment of painting. I was not sure if whether I did it to appear cool, or I was genuinely enjoying it for the sake of creating. Turns out, most of my works up to that point had been done for the sake of getting them likes on my social media, and that i only wanted validation from my social media followers.
  3. It’s very important to not judge yourself as an attention seeking whore. You have to remember being mindful is all about non-judgmental awareness. If your thoughts are caught up in judgment, don’t judge yourself for that either. Gently nudge your thoughts back to the base of your breathing and continue to acknowledge your emotions and the reasons behind.
  4. Now it’s time for action: you should at this point, find out how needing validation from certain groups (family, friends, neighbours, classmates, strangers on the internet) have driven you to commit certain actions. It’s time for you to decide if that validation is worth having, and to decide whether you want to continue that action or not. With regard to the above painting example, after finding out that I was doing it mostly for the likes, I took a break. Instagram likes were simply not worth the frustration and hair loss from all the hair-pulling of producing each piece of work and the likes would always become meaningless after a few days anyway.
    But something strange happened, after a few months of not painting, I found myself drawn back to the freshness of paint, to the softness of brushes. But this time? This time, as I pick my brush and dab it into the swirling green palette, I know I’m doing it out of pure enjoyment, out of the pure need to record my thoughts in brush strokes instead of a few hollas from internet strangers and painting has never been more liberating. I know it’s hard, especially if you grow up in Cambodia where you’re taught from day-one to seek for social validation. To be honest, I’m still in the process of weeding out the validation-motivated actions and the love-motivated ones. It’s a long and excruciating process and one worth your time because if not, whose life are you going to lead? If you want it to be yours, it makes sense to do what you really enjoy!

This is part of the My Mindful Week series. Read why it’s important here, day 1 here, and day 2 here.

My Mindful Week- Day 2: Dealing with Jealousy

 

It’s a Tuesday morning and you just got back from the gym. Beads of perspiration are racing one another across your forehead and you think, “eh, this is a good time to check up on my Facebook feed while letting my pumping body cool off.” So you did. And boy, was that a big mistake because instead of appreciating your own efforts in finally getting your lazy bum to the gym early on a Tuesday morning, you’re reminded of that one hot friend you have who’s training for a national marathon and just posted a picture of her track.

You envy her dedication and abs of steel.

You check out the news and found that your favorite band is doing yet another European tour and the green monster strikes yet again. Why can’t you be cool and make your band work (never mind the fact that you have zero musical training)? Why aren’t you packed and on board, on your way to a year of crazy world adventure?

Then you proceed to hear from your dear mother that a distant cousin is accepted into a master program in the United States. Like damn! Why can’t you be accepted into a master programs too even if you don’t know for sure you want to suffer two additional years for yet another paper?

The green monster becomes all the more hurtful when you really intend on getting something, yet somebody else gets it! The jealousy you feel for that straight A student in class, or the envy for your friend who finally made it big in the science field.

Rationally, you know. Oh, you know you shouldn’t feel jealous of these people who have theoretically done you no harm, yet, the monster crops up every time you are reminded of what should be.

Being mindful can help you a lot in dealing with this unwanted distracting feeling of envy:

  1. Acknowledge it: I’m serious. Most of us, with our conscience and our sensibility tend to push these uncomfortable feelings away, thinking that to feel envy means we are bad people. Well, feeling envy doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us, well, people. Don’t push the feeling away. Turn around and take a look at that thing you call “green monster” so vehemently. Don’t judge the feeling, nor yourself. Just acknowledge that you are indeed feeling envious right now.
  2. Breathe in and out: try to look at the creature of envy and just breathe. Again, be mindful of your breathing all the way. If you stray, get carried away by what “should” be yet again, it’s alright. Accept that, and gently nudge your attention back to your breathing and your internal feelings.
  3. Look deep into your history: take a look at the series of events that led to this one single jealous moment. Say, you’re jealous of others being able to be out and proud with their sexuality while you’re here, buried neck deep in your cheap closet. Look into the events that led you here. Your parents are homophobic. You’re living in a society where homosexuality is treated as a joke, a faraway fairytale that shouldn’t exist in the real life. You are far too scared to face the consequences of being disowned and shunned if you ever come out to your family. That’s alright. Just look at the series of events that led you here.
  4. Look deep into the history of the target of your envy: after looking at what led you there, look at the person you’re jealous of. That person who’s so out and proud? They used to be scared too when they’re sixteen and realized they liked girls. But their parents were quite accepting when they came out. Try to find the reasons that take them there and I assure you it’s never 100% smooth sailing for anyone, no matter how fine they appear to be now.
  5. Understand that you have your path and they have their paths. It’s fortunate that they have received what you craved most, but that’s their lives. That’s their path. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t have it, but this is your life, your path. And these paths are what make them and you unique individuals. Also, you might think they are “successful” in this particular area, but try to look at other areas where they are struggling. It’s a universal thing, this struggling. Once you’ve accepted that you and their lives are full of suffering, just in different hells, you’ll feel more compassion towards both yourself and them.
  6. Plan your actions: I believe there can be a healthy balance between acceptance and striving, so after accepting your past histories and everything that has led you to feel this jealousy, ask yourself, do you still want that? If you’re okay with not having it, simply acknowledge that it’s not a path you’d like to choose and move on with your life. However, if you still very much want it, make schemes, create an action plan to make it a reality. Say, you want to feel secured enough to come out to your family. Well, get a job. Invest your money. Save it. And bake a gay cake as a means of coming out!

One note though: after you’ve done this, the green creature is bound to creep up on you later on, most of the times, on the same freaking issue that you’ve dealt with. Don’t get frustrated; that’s part and package of being human. You just have to repeat this same process, acknowledge, understand and plan over and over and over. It sounds tiring, but it’s so much better than seething in envy on your own or worst, hating people out of spite.

 

My Mindful Week- Day 1: Dealing with Past Disappointments

We’ve all been there. It’s 3am on a Saturday night and you’re laying in a comfy bed, and as much as you want to get some shut-eye, your mind is going 120km/h thinking about all the mistakes you’ve done in the past or the hurt people inflicted upon you.

If only you’d tried a little more, she could’ve stayed. If only you knew better then, you wouldn’t be three knuckles deep in debt and about to lost all your savings right now. If only your boss hadn’t underestimated your working ethics or your friend hadn’t insulted you in front of the whole party. If only…

But these repeating loops of cassetted memories? They are just pointy, deadly knives. The more you replay them, the deeper you drive these knives into your own heart.

And you don’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that.

There’s a way to learn from these memories, but bleeding your heart by replaying them over and over and over is not it.

Here’s how I’ve learnt to cope with creeping past disappointments and hurt using mindfulness:

  • The first thing you’ll want to do is to acknowledge that disappointment. It’s natural for you to want to just brush it off, sweep it under the rug with other hundreds of past heartbreaks in the attic of your heart chambers. While it’s the mind’s way of keeping itself sane, the growing dust will eventually build up and burst one day. It’s better to acknowledge it and deal with it rather than bottling it up (duh).
  • Breathe in and out and be aware of your breathes. When you breathe in, say, “I’m breathing in.” When you breathe out, say, “I’m breathing out.”
  • Do not chastise yourself for stabbing your own heart. This is very critical because many of you tend to hate yourself for reliving past mistakes on top of the wound that such an act inflicts on your emotional bearings. Don’t blame yourself for it. Instead, just acknowledge the fact that you are reliving past memories and that you are feeling negative emotions. (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes for difficult memories, but breathe in and out through everything. You’ve got this.)
  • Breathe in and out some more.
  • After acknowledging the presence of those negative emotions, look at your past self in the memory. If you want to, look deeply into that self. Most of the time, you made that particular mistake because you were young, naïve, didn’t know any better. Or it was motivated out of fear, fear of being rejected, of being alone or any one of the hundreds manifestations of fear. Don’t judge that past self. Just acknowledge the reasons behind your action back then.

If you’re still mad for not getting into that one specific scholarship program, just look at your past self that was applying for it. Did you try your best? If yes, what else could you have done but your best? If not, why didn’t you try your best? Were you too stressed out with other areas of your life? Did you fear giving it all out and realizing you were never enough anyway? Did you fear failure? Were you afraid of what people were going to say about your failing to get in? Most of the time, everything just boils down into fear. We’re such fearful creatures, but that’s alright. Just acknowledge that part of your nature while breathing in and out and smile at it. Fear can only be replaced by understanding. Just shed the light of acknowledgement at that fear, and you will suddenly feel a little lighter, more alive. As you continue to practice, you might even grow to want to hug your younger self much like how you’d hug a scared child after they think they’ve done some horrible mistake like breaking an expensive cup and are scheming of the best way to run away from home forever because to be honest, aren’t we just children who are scared and lost?

  • Don’t forget to be aware of your in and out breathes through everything. Sometimes, you can get carried away by your thoughts. Don’t blame yourself for it. It’s a habit and you can certainly get better bit by bit. Just gently get back to being aware of your breathes every time you’ve wandered.
  • Finally, remind yourself that this is in the past and that it cannot hurt you anymore. You’ve survived it. Even if there are facets of it that you would love to change, you literally can’t. Until the scientists have figured out a way to travel back in time, you’re stuck with the present moment. Those things happened, and that’s that. Look at it with the eye of mindful non-judgement, smile at your younger self, and get back into the present reality where you truly belong.

If you have trouble following your breathe mindfully, it might be useful to read Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions here.

This is part of My Mindful Week series. Read about its importance here

My Mindful Week: Intro

Close your eyes, relax your mind and let your thoughts wander to the happiest memory from your childhood. The image might be a bit blurry around the edges, but you are able sense the distinct sound of rain falling, lightly pitter pattering on the metal roof above your head. You’re 8 years old.
You just got up 15 minutes ago, and you’re enjoying a morning cartoon on your local TV channel. This is a rainy Sunday so you will probably spend it playing pretend in the alleyway with a few of the neighbourhood kids. At this exact moment though, eight-year-old you are not thinking about what you did wrong yesterday, or what you have to do to impress your playmates this afternoon; you’re just contentedly fixate your gaze upon the cheap TV screen.
At that moment, you’re happy to just be.

Your version of a happy childhood memory might be different from mine, but I believe we all have one with much-or-less the same essence. When we were younger, even with perhaps a shorter attention span, we were much more attuned to our surroundings. Everything, from the fluttering of a yellow flower petal in the breeze, to the colorful reflected city lights after a light evening rain amused our little hearts. It didn’t really take much to make us enjoy the moment; sometimes we are entertained just by swinging on our hammock as hard as possible.

But then we grew up.
We became more fixated on the future or the past.

We start to fret about what might go wrong in the future, justifying to ourselves that we are preparing for the worst case possible; I mean, isn’t that what adults supposed to do? Fretting and preparing all the time?

We are also frequently caught up with past events- embarrassments and heartaches. It takes much more to amuse us; as if happiness is a carrot pulled over our heads with an invisible sting, always insight, yet perpetually out of touch.

For the longest time, I’d been searching for a way to get back into that childhood stupor where everything, even the most mundane as a dusty shop sign was fascinating, where one’s senses are highly attuned the happenings of the outside world, where one’s capacity to enjoy life is infinite. Even without evidence to back it up, I have this inkling that the capacity to commit one hundred percent of our mind and body to a moment is the happiest state a human being can attain, with our inner turmoil and flaws. Some philosophers and researchers actually back up this notion.

download“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the famous author of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (which I highly recommend), “and in doing work is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we use this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how use it. And it is an energy under control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”

Further explained in his book is how one can channel one’s attention to get into the “flow” state where one loses consciousness of oneself, and immersed in the experience at hand, not unlike how you forget about your chubby arms and just dance to the rapture of a tune when you were a toothless child.

Susan Sontag, a famous author and speaker has this to say regarding attention in her Vassar College Commencement Speech, 2003 (link here):

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. . . . Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

 

It really doesn’t take well-respected thinkers to convince us that attention is the key to life.

Just take a brief pause and look over your shoulder to the path of your life.

Why do some memories stick out more than others? Yes, because we were paying attention to it.

Why do companies spend billions of dollars devising strategies to grab our attention to their ads, even resorting to using sublime messages? Yup, attention. If they can control where our attention goes to, they can to a certain extend control our decisions.

I sincerely believe that our attention is not made to deal with the bombardment of so many attention-grabbing ads we encounter every single day. A normal city dweller today has enough excitement to last a 10th century Angkorian for a lifetime. Our inboxes are flowing with “urgent” stuff that needs our attention. Our newsfeed is pasted all over the place with injustice, issues, and events that claim to deserve our attention. But in the midst of this chaotic whirlwind of notifications, what do YOU want to pay attention to? What do you want to prioritize? It’s time like this that the practice of mindfulness is all the more vital.

It’s surprising, considering the fact that Cambodian claims to be a Buddhist country, yet it takes me, as a Cambodian citizen, 20 years to get acquainted with this simple concept of Buddhism (from a Vietnamese monk living in exile in the United States nonetheless). Again, just to clarify, mindfulness is not a religious practice. If you’re like me, who’s not all that into religions, just think of it as a life hack.

So why mindfulness? But most importantly, what is mindfulness?

To state it clearly and simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what is happening outside and inside of oneself. It’s a very simple concept; one that is very easy to grasp intellectually, but quite difficult to integrate into our daily lives.

Our heads especially as adults have the tendency to flutter away from our feet. We fret over the reason why someone would insult us in a classroom a week ago, or we are anxious about how our date would go this evening, or what would we do when we finally graduate. What if we fail this class? What if we can’t find a satisfying job? What if we are left behind while all our friends get on with the rides of their successful lives?

We are so caught up with our worries and anxieties that we forget to listen to the chirping of the birds outside of our windows, or the presence of our close friends going on and on about their days right beside us. We always think that maybe some time in the future, we might finally have time to enjoy our lives, but the circular pattern draws on. Once we get to that “future”, we will still be fretting over the future of “that future”.

Until one day, death comes and we’re gone.

 

 

The only reality that is available to us is this moment right here and right now, and if we don’t live here, when can we be alive? In the past where everything is a memory, or in the future which consists of only projections?

To chain our mind down to the present reality, our breathing comes in handy. We don’t need to buy a new gadget, or go somewhere exotic to get in touch with life.

Just breathe.

 

Notice how you are breathing in, and how you are breathing out. Notice the presence of things around you, the people chattering away, the smell of air, the odd chances that we are alive right here right now. Notice the feelings boiling inside you. Maybe you’re scared; maybe you’re contented. Just notice them,

and breathe.

 

If you don’t buy into the above claims, consider this solid research. Several researchers have found out that meditation, and mindfulness practice DO have a physical effect on our brain.

Mindfulness meditation was found to bring about the thickening of some brain regions associated with attention, interception, and sensory processing. It might even lead to the offset of our brain thinning that normally happens as we age [1]. That doesn’t even need a long time practice to take effect, as a matter of fact, another research with only an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program found an increase in their participants’ left sided brain regions which are associated with the reduction in anxiety and an increase in immune system [2].

Relationship-wise,  mindfulness-based programs were also found to increase happy couples’ closeness, satisfaction, autonomy, relatedness, acceptance and decrease their relationship distress. Furthermore, individually, those couples found their optimism, spirituality, relaxation increased and their psychological distress decreased. The effect even holds up 3 months after the evaluation [3].

Research after research has also found that mindfulness practice increase family connection. (I won’t be getting into that today, because let’s face it, we’re all pretty much non-married. However, the reference to the research journals in included just in case you want to dive in further [4]).

Now, onto juicier stuff. Mindfulness training has been found to increase the relapse prevention in substance abuse by enabling people to treat urges as simply urges without caving into them [5]. It’s also believed to actually reduce distress associated with pain; thereby, reducing the perceived pain [6].

Mindfulness practice was also tied to relapse prevention of major depression episode among chronically depressed people [7]. And because of its non-judgemental nature, it also indirectly leads to relaxation and stress reduction [8].

Given the growing track record of the benefits of mindfulness, I think we should all take a closer look at this champion right here. I mean, if there’s proof that this method might just turn your life around, why not give it a try?

That was exactly my thought when I began to dabble into the world of mindfulness a year and a half ago, and directly or indirectly, I believe it has helped to exhilarate many facets of the growth I’ve experienced in these corresponding years. Therefore, I’d like to take this chance to share with you what I’ve practiced and believed to have helped me deal with this crazy thing we call life. However, due to its extensive length, I’m going to break each main practice into a blog post and compile it into a not-so-originally named series called My Mindful Week!

Do not expect to cure yourself of depression, anxiety, sadness and envy all in one week though (because bruh, I’m still struggling), but like I said, I hope it can help you lessen these negative experiences no matter how little. Please be aware that the series is not the final say in mindfulness (obviously). Please, please, if it is not working for you, go out, explore this wonderful practise on your own- visit a mindfulness therapist, ordain as a monk, read a book or nine about it- dig deeper! The series is only meant to be a personal sharing of the practises I’ve found useful and most of them are from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh (go dig deeper about this guy, like seriously).

Also, another thing before ending this nearly 2k word article, mindfulness is a habit; it’s a way of life. It’s taken literally decades for Thich Nhat Hanh (a monk) to be a master of it, and  me one year and a half to realize the little change I’ve experienced. My point is that you will grow very frustrated and bored and probably doubtful of these practises, but please please hold on out until you are sure you can’t take it anymore and then hold out some more because it’s literally changed my life and no doubt many others’ around the world throughout history.

Well, that’s all for now, fellas! I hope you have a great sleep today, because our training will start tomorrow morning and it’ll be simple but not quite easy (it’s pretty hard). Good luck on your journey!