How to Make Mindfulness Second Nature This Spring
by WITHIN Meditation Cofounder Hannah Knapp
If you’re curious about practicing mindfulness, now is a great time to start. Spring makes it easy to be mindful. We’re naturally looking for changes in the world around us, eager for evidence that the world is renewing itself again. Mindfulness takes that same instinct, and shifts it just slightly. Instead of looking for reassurance that winter is over (at last!), when you look with a mindful eye, you’re just noticing, without needing to find anything in particular. You’re just drinking it all in.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Our minds are well-trained to look with an appraising, critical, often fearful, eye - not just noticing that the sky is clear and the sun is out, but commenting on it.
Wow it’s so warm for April, I don’t remember it being this warm this time last year, I wonder if this is a new trend, part of global warming, we’re all doomed, I should move someplace inland now while I can before the sea level rises…
…you see where this is going. Without even realizing it, we’ve slipped from noticing to analyzing, projecting our own fears onto the circumstances we’ve found ourselves in.
I like to remind students who come to our studio that this slippage is totally normal. We have a lot of practice with this kind of thinking; that muscle is very strong! Our mindfulness muscles are comparatively weak. We need to give them extra time at the gym to get them to the same level of strength.
The good news is, with enough practice, you can train yourself to look at that same clear sky and stick with just noticing it. All it takes is a commitment to being curious about the present moment - more curious about what’s actually in front of you, than you are about where your thoughts are heading.
You’ll feel the tug of your mind towards analysis and fear, but you’ll be able to ignore it. The advantage of being able to just pay attention, is that you can fully experience where you are. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having thoughts; it’s just that paying more attention to what’s going on in your head, than to what’s going on around you, wears you down - and you miss out on a lot of pretty amazing stuff. Practicing mindfulness helps you unwind that habit.
Here are two simple ways you can practice that commitment to curiosity, with some extra help from this beautiful season we’re in, right now.
Take A Mindful Walk
Now that the weather is nicer, it’s the perfect time to get out for a walk. Incorporate mindfulness into your next walk, whether it’s part of your commute or just a walk for its own sake. As you head down the street, do one or all of these three things:
Notice how your feet feel as they touch the ground - all the sensations involved, from the muscles inside to the impact with your shoes and the ground, to the texture of the ground beneath you.
Notice what catches your eye in your surroundings - maybe it’s particular paint colors, or budding trees, or the people nearby. Challenge yourself to just notice, without getting side-tracked by opinions about what you notice.
Notice your breathing - maybe it’s fast or slow, deep or shallow, in sync with your footfalls or not at all. Keep noticing it as you walk, and see if it changes as you go.
How does paying attention in this way change the experience of walking?
Open Your Senses, With A Mindful Pause Outside
Being outside immediately heightens your senses. There’s so much to take in - especially when the birds are singing like mad and the wildflowers are in bloom. Make a point of spending some time outside each day for a week, just being still and absorbing it all.
Choose a place to sit or stand where you won’t feel self-conscious. Begin by feeling the ground beneath you, that sensation of touch. Then slowly move your attention through each of your senses: what do you smell? what’s the taste in your mouth? how does the air feel on your skin? what do you hear? what catches your eye?
As you tune into your senses, what do you notice that you would usually breeze past?
Let Mindfulness Become Second Nature
As you continue to do these experiments - and others like them - in your day-to-day life, you’ll gradually build up that mindfulness muscle. You can accelerate your progress by practicing meditation, too. Over the next few weeks, Devon Pipars will be leading our #MindfulStart Meditation Course, which is a great way to get going or go deeper with your meditation practice. Being mindful out in the world, and spending time “on the cushion” in meditation, will help you make mindfulness second nature.
Hannah is the cofounder of WITHIN Meditation. She’s passionate about helping students start meditating, and stick with it. She often teaches on Monday mornings and midday - join her for a class this week!