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You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to be mindful

How do you think you would fare if you were told you weren’t allowed to talk for ten days? Well, I had the chance to find out earlier this year, when I travelled across Thailand to partake in a 10-day silent retreat, held in a Buddhist monastery.

Picture this: Seven hours a day spent in silent meditation, eating nothing after 12pm, and absolutely no reading, writing, technology or talking. Me, who had never meditated before! I will admit that I spent half the time daydreaming about my first cup of coffee or glass of wine on the outside. But guess what? This incredible experience taught me an awful lot. And the good news is, you don’t have to be a monk or go on a silent retreat to bring these lessons into your everyday life! I’ve written down the top three life-changing takeaways from my monk-ish escapade, for you to start implementing right now.

The power of programming

Did you know that 95% of everything you think, feel, say, and do is controlled by your subconscious mind? It’s like the autopilot of your brain, running on programming you picked up since you were a tiny human. That means that only 5% of your thoughts and actions are actually controlled by your conscious mind!

The problem is, a lot of our subconscious programming probably doesn’t really serve us, but we often have a hard time separating it from truth. For example, if we have been programmed to believe that we are not good enough, or smart enough, then 95% of our actions will be driven by these beliefs – even if our conscious mind desires confidence and success. That measly 5% is at a huge disadvantage, as it is up against a lifetime of programming.

One of the ways we can work around this is through practising mindfulness. When we’re mindful, we are in the moment, fully aware of our thoughts, and not just cruising on autopilot. From this state, we are able to make sure that what we say and do is aligned to what we want, and more importantly – who we want to be, rather than constantly acting and speaking out of habit.

Flexing our conscious mind muscle takes practice, but it is key to creating the life that you want. Without mindfulness, you will constantly be acting based on your habits, not even realising that they could be holding you back.

How difficult do you find it to be present, and to act consciously?

Practise non-attachment

Buddhists believe that suffering comes from our attachments. For example, if you get too attached to social media validation, then your self-worth fluctuates with every like; or, become a workaholic who prides themselves on never taking a break, and burnout is probably just around the corner.

People can get attached to all sorts of things: material goods, beliefs, people, food and drink, money, work, social media. We all have attachments, but the real question is: which ones are serving you, and which are weighing you down? Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting you toss away everything you love!

Let’s take a leaf from the monks’ book and review our attachments. Keep the positive ones, ditch the draining ones. It’s time to embrace a lighter, freer life.

What are you emotionally attached to that is not serving you positively?

Meditation with breathing

I know, you were probably hope this wouldn’t come up. Meditation may sound intimidating, and it can take time to see the benefits, but the results are well documented. Meditation is about focus and presence. This can be as simple as: being able to concentrate fully on a conversation, solve a problem, or watch a film without also being on your phone.

You don’t have to sit cross-legged for an hour making ‘ohm’ noises if that doesn’t work for you. Simply taking ten minutes and choosing something to focus on is meditation! This could be counting your breath, repeating a mantra, or listening to the sounds around you. Nothing too complicated. Other thoughts will enter your brain, this is normal – just remember that any thoughts of importance will come back to you, and for now you can return to your point of focus.

Afterwards, simply notice how you feel. Does your mind feel clearer? Are you more peaceful? If you really struggled, don’t worry – it is only ten minutes of your day, and you can try again tomorrow.

If any of these three things particularly struck you, I would encourage you to make a note, and act on it. There is no time like the present, to become more present!

Want to know more about the skill of ‘conscious mind’?

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