I don’t like shopping centres and I was with someone who wanted to take the time to enjoy both shopping and window shopping. Alone for a few minutes and hurrying through a department store to buy the one item I actually needed, I decided to try some mindful self-observation. The image came to me of, ‘irritable woman with a frown on her face, scurrying through a seemingly endless display of large, polished, expensive handbags.’ There was something about the size and elegance of the handbags that felt completely foreign to my inner experience of impatience and irritability; so that I started to laugh. With laughter came self-compassion, and as my irritability dropped away I found that I could simply enjoy the shopping centre as if it was a museum of anthropology.
Using the technique of mindful self-observation, I was able to detach from my negative thoughts and emotions and simply look at myself from the role of unprejudiced observer. What was happening in this moment, right now? What I saw triggered my sense of humour, breaking my negativity and allowing me to remain in the present for the rest of the shopping trip.
Taking it slowly
In my moment of mindful self-observation, it was as if I left my body and floated up to the ceiling to observe this irritable woman hurrying through the handbag department. It didn’t take long, a glimpse was enough. I could have equally imagined a large screen and watched a video of myself, or reduced everything down to a dolls house stage set where I could watch this play being enacted. All it takes is an honest and unbiased look at yourself within the bigger context.
The inspiration to do this exercise was timely, as I was committed to going shopping with my companion and I was not likely to change the behaviour of the crowds. The only thing I could change was myself, and that was not going to happen just by willing it; I needed to reframe it somehow. The image of the museum of anthropology was very helpful for me, reminding me to simply observe the interesting range of different people, without judging.
The practice of mindfulness is to hold your awareness in the present moment, not letting your imagination slide back into past memories or leap forwards to future possibilities. The opposite is mindlessness, the state where you carry out routine actions without noticing them because your mind is completely elsewhere.
You will have experienced being fully in the present moment numerous times and although each experience was probably quite brief, you will remember several of them because they filled you with a sense of peaceful, expanded exhilaration. These are the times where you are completely in the flow of the moment, without thought or judgement, just being and experiencing, like seeing a magnificent sunset, dancing to your favourite piece of music, listening to a wonderful song, watching your team scoring the winning goal, playing a sport when you and your team- mates are perfectly coordinated, running into the sea on the first day of your holiday or holding a new born baby in your arms.