Have you ever experienced walking or driving a regular route, only to arrive at your usual destination and realise that you were meant to be going somewhere else on that particular occasion? This is what we refer to as being on auto-pilot. Being “miles away” without knowing it. We may find that we are habitually lost in thought, without being really “present”, moment-by-moment, for much of our lives.
In this state of auto-pilot, there is a sense of disconnection from our feelings and our bodies, and what is happening directly in front of us and within us. It is in this state that we are more likely to have our “buttons pressed”. Events around us can trigger old habits of feeling, thinking and behavior that are often unhelpful, and may lead on to physical and emotional symptoms of stress.
The mindfulness practice is a simple way to help us “step out” of auto-pilot and reconnect with our bodies and inner resources again. By becoming more aware of our bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to play out the same old patterns that may have caused problems in the past.
As we increase our awareness, we can begin to respond to situations with choice, rather than react automatically. This involves becoming more aware of where our attention is, and deliberately bringing the focus of attention back into our body and senses, over and over again.
Sometimes people get caught up in the idea that mindfulness will instantly make them a more relaxed, calmer and happier person. The full richness of the practice and what it has to offer can be stunted by this “goal-oriented” approach. Mindfulness is not about trying to be different in some way or reach a certain state of being. Rather, it is about allowing yourself to be where you are, exactly as you are, with no judgement.