Do you always live to – or beyond – your limits? Would you get less done if you took regular breaks?
Many people live in a ‘boom and bust’ way, otherwise known as the overactivity–underactivity cycle. To varying degrees, many of us swing between high energy and low energy.
We do less when we are feeling tired and unmotivated; then, when we feel more energetic, we hectically try to catch up on all the things that we’ve got behind with and end up overdoing it and getting stressed out. This tips us straight back into feeling exhausted and strained again, and so things on the list don’t get done as we are so tired, until there is another blitz on a good day. And so the cycle goes on. And on. And on.
Clearly it’s not such a great way to live and you could try something radical and take breaks before you need them. And we’re not talking about going to bed for the afternoon here or booking a two-week holiday in the sun; it’s a case of simply practising simple mindfulness exercises regularly or standing up to stretch from time to time when working at your desk.
The mindfulness exercise below is an easy way to take a break during your day and practice mindfulness at the same time. Pausing and paying attention to the simple act of boiling the kettle, will help you to break the boom-and-bust cycle that is making you feel so exhausted and strained. Instead of rushing and then going on to the next thing, or having a whirring mind as you make your tea – let your kettle boiling activity be an opportunity to experience your body and your senses and to have some moments of peace and calm. Try and do this meditation each time you stop for tea or coffee.
Boiling a kettle of water is one of those things that we all do several times a day without a moment’s thought. So try paying full mindful attention to filling and boiling a kettle of water.
As you lift the kettle to fill it, how heavy does it feel? Do you fill it via the spout or do you open the lid? Is the lid stiff? Pay full attention as the water swills out of the tap and into the kettle.
Does it hiss and bubble? Does it smell? We are so accustomed to the smell of water that we no longer notice it. Try to imagine how strong the smell of moisture would be if you had just spent a week in a desert. Spend a few moments thinking about how the water reached you. The rain falling on the distant mountains, trickling through rock and soil, until it eventually reaches a stream. Imagine the reservoir, the water-treatment works, the pipelines. Now, imagine all of the engineers and maintenance workers who designed, built and maintained the water network.
Think of the people involved in producing and distributing the electricity; the people growing and distributing the tea, coffee or cocoa that you will use to make your drink. We are all interconnected on myriad levels. And this is just for a cup of tea.
As you return the kettle to the work surface or cooker, pay close attention to your own movements. Were you aware of those movements or did they ‘just happen’? Likewise, did you consciously flick the electric switch to ‘On’ or light the cooker – or did your autopilot take care of things?
Now, listen as the kettle begins to heat. What can you hear? Close your eyes and drink in the sounds. Check in with yourself.
What mode of mind are you operating in? After a few moments, see if you can notice the first stirrings of impatience. Where in the body are they to be found? What do they feel like? Do they feel like a force trying to break out and exert control? Does your breath become constricted in some way? Habits of impatience can be compelling.
When the kettle has almost boiled, what do you do? Do you wait until the thermostat clicks off – or do you rush in and pour the water before it is boiled? See if you can be patient and wait for the thermostat to click off before mindfully lifting the kettle, being aware of your breath as you pour the water.
Spend a moment considering if there are other aspects of daily life that could also be used to cultivate mindfulness. Such ‘everyday mindfulness’ can be at least as important as the formal meditations.
Now take your cup of tea, coffee or cocoa and relax. You’ve earned it.
This meditation has been extracted from Mindfulness for Women by Vidyamala Burch and Claire Irvin. For more on mindfulness visit the website www.mindfulness4women.com.