If you’re reading this blog, the likelihood is you know a little something about mindfulness. That calming sense of here and now – being present within a moment and allowing past and future worries to stay where they’re meant to be.
One of the first images when thinking of mindfulness is likely to be that of nature. An open field on a crisp autumn day with trees and greenery all around, animals scurrying and everything co-existing harmoniously in near silence. So how do you practice mindfulness in London when you’re sweating through your shirt after waiting for three tubes to pass before you can squeeze onto the Central Line next to the one guy who thought he could skip showering today (and perhaps the last two weeks)?
Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years – grounded in Eastern philosophy, but the 1960s saw an influx of meditative processes making their way into the Western world. The late 70s saw a more medical approach, with mindfulness adopted within cognitive methods of stress relief – helping those suffering with anxiety and depression. From the 90s it was a major part of cognitive behavioural therapies, used to help people suffering from anxiety and depression.
Train Delays, Reclaiming Minutes
Waiting for the tube or bus can seem like a tremendous waste of time. Three whole minutes until the next one? Outrageous! Except, there it is. Three minutes, 180 whole seconds there for the taking — you’ve nowhere to go, so why not stop and flex your mindfulness right there for everyone to see! Yes, there are announcements and grumpy commuters, but mindfulness isn’t about closing your eyes and pretending you’re on a beach in Bali; it’s in the here and now.
You don’t have to close your eyes at all: just focus on your breathing, cast your gaze downwards and listen to yourself. Feel your feet on the platform; even feel the rush of air as someone whips past to get to the right set of doors. It’s not an easy task, and may take some practice: others’ conversations will drag you in, or an urgent email from Derek in HR (who insists on putting three exclamation points) comes through — but all that happens in quiet spots as well. Your mind will wander, you just have to bring it back. If you stick at it, leave the phone on silent and resist the thrill of watching the minutes tick down on the LED screen, you’ll have taken that little piece of the day that might have been stolen and given it back to yourself. There’s nowhere else you can be in that moment, so be there.
I like to – when I know I’m not pushed for time – just wait for the next train sometimes. Even if it’s not rammed, I’ll just allow the doors to open, watch the flow of people getting out of and into the carriage, allow the beeps not to faze me and see the doors shut and the train ride on. It allows me to realise I’m not a slave to the tube, and gives me a few seconds on peacefulness before the next influx of travellers approach the platform.
Taking 5 for Yourself
Mindfulness isn’t limited to still moments of silence, you can do it while walking — maybe the ideal setting is a secluded woodland area — but it can still be done on the way to work, class or to meet friends. One trick is to change your route. If you travel the same way regularly you start to go on autopilot. Have you even gotten up at your station without really having listened to the station announcement? Or taken a friend from out of a town to a regular haunt of yours and they’ve pointed out details that pass your by on the daily?
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself a bit of time to spare on your way somewhere, take the Overground instead of the Underground, hop a bus or get off a few stops early and walk. You may notice a brightly painted front door, a mischievous cat about to knock a plant off a windowsill, or even a front garden filled in Walthamstow filled with tiny hand-knitted creatures (see image). The difference in scenery can mean you take the time to notice the little things on your journey instead of treating as a means to an end. This keeps you within that moment rather running too far ahead or behind.
Cultivating Mindfulness in London
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this in London is going on walking tours. I’d lived in London on and off for five years before doing one. I’ve never been a person to think I know a lot about the city, but I did know basic A to B and major buildings. Taking tours of Central London made me stop and look at the smaller details – the frantic lifestyles and small annoyances can end up being the focus in a city that has a complex and fascinating history.
Mindfulness takes work and is an on ongoing process, but if you keep at it and can make it work then before your know it your morning commute from hell will become a walk in the park.