Full disclosure, I used to scoff at the notion of mindfulness. During the happier and more stable periods of my life, I struggled to comprehend why it would be necessary. How hard is it to live in the moment? Just pay attention. Now, I can safely say that I owe mindfulness a lot.
When life gets a bit fast-paced, as it often does at university, it’s easy to be swept along in a flurry of moments: nights out, lectures, coffee meet-ups, trips to the pub, shifts at work, visits home and so on. A week might pass before you have an extended period of time to yourself that isn’t spent sleeping. Suddenly, it’s the end of the semester and you feel as though your feet haven’t touched the ground in months. You stop connecting to the moment, preoccupied with making plans and meeting deadlines.
Sometimes, this can spiral into a serious mental illness symptom known as ‘dissociation’. My experience of this is best described as feeling like you’re watching your life on TV (and I can confirm that my life is the most boring TV show ever). Jokes aside, it is completely terrifying. Nothing feels real, and consequently, nothing feels important. You can find yourself indulging in reckless behaviours in a desperate attempt to ‘snap out of it’, which can make your life worse, thereby lowering your mood and further warping your perception of reality. Therefore, it is important to avoid descending into this cycle, and one means of doing so is by practising mindfulness.
Now, this doesn’t mean sitting with your legs crossed humming to yourself for hours on end – personally, I can’t stand meditating. It can be as simple as choosing a moment and noticing all of your senses. What can you smell? It could be your housemate’s dodgy cooking, or your friend’s perfume. What can you hear? It could be music, people talking, or birds tweeting. What can you see? Perhaps it’s your essay on a computer screen, or a Unilink bus rattling around a corner. What can you feel? Maybe it’s your steering wheel underneath your fingertips, or the worn fabric of a Stag’s booth under your thighs and against your back. What can you taste? It might be chewing gum, coffee or cereal.
Mindfulness can be as simple as making a conscious effort to be aware of the details of your surroundings and your exact position in the world within that moment. It doesn’t need to be boring or overwhelming, merely a way of training yourself to maintain a sense of self. For everyone, it is a useful skill; for some, it is life-saving.