Before you read this blog any further I’d like to invite you to take a moment to tune into your surroundings and make a mental note of what you can hear, see or smell.
Perhaps you can hear the traffic outside, or birds singing away? Can you smell the coffee from the mug on your desk or maybe you can catch the faint aroma of freshly cut grass? How do these things make you feel, physically or mentally? Does the smell of the grass make you feel grateful that spring is here for example? Maybe it brings back memories of happy summer’s days gone by. It might even make you want to take a break from what you are doing and get some fresh air.
When we stop and focus on the little, often every day, details around us, it’s a very simple way of practising mindfulness and tuning into how we are feeling in the moment. And it can make such a difference to our mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word recently and I have found that this can make people think it is a complicated practice that only the most enlightened among us can benefit from. This couldn’t be further from the truth! There are so many very simple ways that we all can practise mindfulness, multiple times a day. The exercise I asked you to do at the beginning of this blog is an example of this.
I have recently read Rewire Your Mind – Discover the Science and Practice of Mindfulness by Shauna Shapiro and I highly recommend it to anyone that would like to learn the benefits of regular mindfulness practice. However, if I were to summarise, I would use this quote from the book:
“It returns our attention to the present moment. And it helps us see clearly with an attitude of kindness and curiosity, instead of judgement and shame. Mindfulness allows us to see and work with what is happening in the here and now, not some idea of what should be happening.”
This really resonates with me as it’s something I see in action when my clients are working with the horses. Initially people tend to come to the workshops with expectations and their own stories of how things “should” be or how they “should” come across. For example, one common story that people tell themselves is that they need to demonstrate how experienced they are with horses, and this expectation they place on themselves can lead to fears of judgement or feelings of shame. Gradually though, they start to let go of these stories and focus in on what the horses are doing, even the subtlest of movements or signals, and in turn this heightens their awareness of their own physical feelings and emotions. From this state they can start to view their feelings with curiosity, kindness and acceptance, rather than judgement or shame. This leads to decisions being made with clarity, rather than being clouded by the “shoulds”.
“Mindfulness is not passive or resigned acceptance. Acceptance is simply the first step towards change and growth. We accept situations as they are, not because we want them to be happening, but because they already are happening. Through acceptance, we can see our situation clearly instead of getting stuck by denying, worrying, lamenting, or raging about what’s happening. When we see things clearly, we respond to them effectively.” – Shauna Shapiro
Being able to explore our feelings with curiosity and kindness rather than pushing them down, ignoring them or even berating ourselves for feeling a certain way (ie: “I should pull myself together, other people have it far worse”) helps us figure out what we really want and spending time around horses can provide the space needed to do this.
Sometimes, when I notice myself creating stories that are based on shame, such as “I haven’t got time to stop”, I take some time to observe my horses in their field. I watch how they move from one grazing spot to another or how their ears twitch when they hear a new noise. When I do this, I am able to think more clearly about how I am really feeling. Why do I think “I haven’t got time to stop” and push myself to keep going, when in actual fact when I give myself time in the morning to ‘be’ with the horses I start the day feeling more calm and relaxed?
Of course, you don’t need to be near horses to do this. You can also create this space for yourself by going for a walk, taking the time to really enjoy a cup of tea (rather than drinking it while you work) or closing your eyes and spending a few minutes listening to bird song. All of these things will help you to tune in to your feelings and emotions. It may help you to write down what you felt in those moments, as this could help you see patterns and identify any old stories you may still be carrying with you.
Ultimately mindfulness gives us space to think without expectation or judgement. It brings our focus to the now and helps us move through habitual patterns or limiting beliefs.
Mindfulness heightens our awareness of our physical feelings and emotions. And in turn we become more aware of our ‘stories’, which is the first step in the process to moving through and alleviating them.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and how horses can help you to be curious in the present moment my one-day DISCOVER workshops are a great place to start. You can learn more and view upcoming dates here.