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Practical Steps to Cultivate Mindfulness

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

IP Interview
Published on April 30, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How mindfulness practice can help us take a step back from intense situations and cultivate a sense of equanimity
Executive Bio

Ed Halliwell

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Ed is a UK-based mindfulness teacher. He has written three books: Into The Heart of Mindfulness, Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention (published in a new edition as Mindfulness Made Easy) and (as co-author) The Mindful Manifesto. He is an associate of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and Sussex Mindfulness Centre, and regularly speaks on mindfulness-related topics, in the media and at conferences, festivals and other events. He leads public mindfulness courses, workshops and retreats in London, Surrey and Sussex, and has introduced and taught mindfulness in workplaces such as Accenture, UNICEF UK, Imperial College Business School, and the Houses of Parliament.

Interview Transcript

Where are we when we are in that place of non-judgmental observation of thoughts?

In a place of warm-heartedness, first of all. A place of interest. I guess these are attitudes, rather than places, but with qualities of interest. What’s going on? What’s happening here? Curiosity is a vital skill, in any arena of life, but perhaps, particularly, in the workplace, to be interested in the many patterns of automaticity that occur in human relationships. Of course, this gets more complex when we’re dealing with other people, as well as ourselves. Suddenly, we’ve got whole ranges of interactions and automaticities and emotion-driven reactions to attempt to manage, influence, understand and steer.

I guess, where we are, when we’re paying attention, with full presence and non-judgmentally, is in a place of observing experiencing. That may sound slightly odd, using both those words. In one sense, observing is a sense of standing back from our experience and actually being able to look. A bit like being on a mountain top and looking down at the world below. You can see what’s going on, but are not involved as if we were down there. You can see a bigger picture. Again, this is very helpful for understanding situations, to be able to step back and look at them, perhaps with a degree of equanimity of not being so caught. A bigger view.

However, it’s also a mode where we are fully in our experience. This is the experience-seeing part. We are not detached from ourselves, but able to observe, as well as be in our experience. I sometimes describe mindfulness as an ABC skill. The A, being awareness and knowing what’s happening. The B is being with, so actually being present and embodying what’s happening. If we’ve got the A and the B, if we know what’s happening and we can be present to it, and not being automatically driven to our impulsive reactions, then we’ve already got the C, which is a space where we can make choices.

So I’d say, where we are is, a place of presence, discernment, stillness – a gap between impulse and action – that can enable us to meet circumstances well. It’s a place we’ve already got. Every time we bring our attention to a specified place or to what’s going on, then we are already there. The difficulty is how easily our minds wander off from it, automatically. This is why, in mindfulness meditation, and I’d really encourage anybody listening to or reading this, to see this, not just as a theoretical but to, perhaps, investigate the practice of mindfulness mediation. Only really from practicing it, can you get to understand what this is like. What it involves is actually bringing our attention into the present moment and, as I’ve suggested, the present moment is experienced in our bodies. Often, that means bringing attention into some place in our bodies, to begin with.

There we actually find that we are already in this place of stillness and presence and experiencing. It’s already there. We don’t have to try to get it; we don’t have to seek it and push for it. It’s just a matter of stopping and pausing and asking myself – you could do this right now if you are listening to or watching this – what’s it like with my feet on the ground. If you’re sitting, what’s it like with my bottom on the chair? Actually noticing your own weight and your own temperature in your body; the feeling of the places of contact that your body is in around you and the environment. Then, perhaps, also noticing what you can see. Having a look around you and just noticing what is actually here. What are the colors here? What are the shapes here? What are the textures? Not needing to think about them but, actually, to connect with them with the senses.

People often say that when they practice this, coming directly into the present moment and noticing what’s around and noticing what’s within and noticing the connection of our bodies with what’s around that we actually discover a place of stillness and we notice more about what’s happening. It’s a different quality. It doesn’t mean you are going to feel all Zen-like and relaxed. As I said, it’s not about relaxation. You may discover that you are really tired or that you are really anxious or really bored. But you’re discovering. Then just staying with that a little longer. The tendency is to go, I’ve done that now and move on to the next thing to get. Maybe not just yet. Maybe just coming back to, what can I see? What can I hear? What’s this experience of sitting, standing? If we can practice this regularly, maybe coming to the sense of breathing, maybe noticing, right now, the tone of breath coming in and out of your body, the movement of your body, of in and out with the breath. Just by noticing and experiencing what’s here right now, with the senses, we are training our capacity for awareness, for mindfulness.

It’s not like a one-shot deal. Like any skill, if you want to become proficient at it, you’ve got to practice it again and again and again. It’s like playing a musical instrument; you don’t get the piano in a day. But over time, our bodies become more familiar with this way. Our brains start to change, because any experience that we give ourselves, changes our brain. Over time, if we repeatedly train our minds and bodies and brains, in this mode of being present, then it’s more likely we’ll be able to draw on it, when we need it. So I’d really encourage people to explore the practice.

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