Coming to our senses

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Mental and social well-being have been central to my work with individuals and groups for over twenty years as a youth and community worker and in the adult education field since 2002. I had been practising mindfulness personally for years and found such a natural synergy between mindfulness, community work and adult education that I began my professional training as a mindfulness teacher in 2015. I see mindfulness as having a huge role to play in creating healthy communities and in restoring and maintaining personal health and well-being.  

In my experience, we can sometimes view mental health as somehow separate from our physical health, when both are intrinsically linked, and both need regular care and attention. We can also view people with mental health issues as somehow separate from ourselves, when in truth everyone has physical, mental and social health needs, all of which require active care. Mindfulness is a practical tool we can use every day to enhance our mental, physical and social well-being.

As human beings we often know what’s good for us yet repeatedly neglect to take these important steps essential for our self-care. For example, we all know that physical training is good for us, and research shows that exercise can make a hugely positive contribution to a healthy mind, yet we seem to need constant persuasion to do it. We often need to convince and cajole ourselves to get going on that walk, run, swim, etc, despite knowing that it will benefit us. Mindfulness is similar in a way, in that we can experience huge resistance to training the mind but can reap equally huge benefits when we make a conscious decision to develop and practice these skills. This takes time, but once we learn core mindfulness skills and we continue to practice and integrate it into our lives, it can become more a way of being, instead of something else that’s needing to be done.

So, how do we begin training the mind to reach and maintain a healthy level of mental fitness? Psychologist Daniel Goleman compares the mind to a gym, and mindfulness meditation to a basic workout. Training the mind to return, again and again, to the present moment is like doing reps! Mindfulness training with the guidance of a suitably trained teacher and the support of a group can help us to build up these essential life skills, working with the mind, the breath and the body.  

Another way in which we can instantly return to our present moment experience is through the senses. A simple way to begin might be to stop for a minute or two every now and again the next time that you’re out walking. Stand or sit still and notice your surroundings. What can you see, smell, taste, touch and hear? Be where you are for a moment or two instead of pounding the road for fitness with a busy mind. It is often only when we stop and notice what’s around us that we realise how, even though we’ve been outside walking, we have not been paying attention, perhaps having been hijacked by our thoughts or our busy minds.  

Try having an attitude of a beginner’s mind, that is, really looking with curiosity at nature as if for the first time, you will be quite amazed what happens when we intentionally take a pause. Noticing what is in our environment begins the process of slowing down our busy minds and literally coming to our senses. Really feeling the sun on your face, the breeze on your skin, listening to the sound of birdsong or waves, watching the changing sky, the moon and stars, whatever spectacle of nature captures your senses when you pause and take notice. In the kind, simple words of the wonderful American poet, the late Mary Oliver, in her poem ‘Instructions for living a life’,

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it”.

For information on upcoming mindfulness or self-compassion training courses, workshops or retreats in West Cork you can contact Susan on 087 2700572 or email: 

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

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