When I first learnt mindfulness I thought of it as a personal development tool – something to help me relax, feel calmer and sleep better. It’s true that it certainly helps with those things, but delving deeper I’ve began to see that truly being present and aware is so much more.
Ultimately the personal is political and the profound changes that mindfulness brings have a ripple effect on the world.
Let me explain…
When we are unmindful we are numb and asleep to life. Mindfulness brings awareness of three powerful realisations:
- We become aware of our role in society
When we become aware of our bodies, we awaken to our discomfort with the status quo. We deeply feel our exhaustion with the burden put on us of being perfect in the workplace and at home. Maybe we dislike the way we are treated in our jobs or by our partners, the way that so many things are run from a patriarchal dynamic, that we can’t ‘do it all’ without our health suffering. So many womxn live with aches and pains, headaches, insomnia, autoimmune disease, menstrual issues and fatigue. We may have tried to block out these feelings but when we start practicing mindfulness we can’t block them out any more. We are awakened.
This is the true reason it can be so difficult to start mindfulness meditation and often we face so much internal resistance to practicing. Unlike ‘spiritual’ meditation forms in which we chant mantras, meet spirit guides or visualise the wonderful things we want to manifest, mindfulness meditation is very real. It is facing the reality of our pain, suffering and emotions, which are buried in our bodies.
This awakening can be painful because it necessitates change. When we become aware, it may mean ending an unhealthy relationship, cutting out friends who drag us down, or leaving an unfulfilling job.
We may resist making these changes at first, but after this comes the rebuilding of our lives. Womxn are refusing to bow down and fit in.
Instead womxn are starting their own businesses which run from the heart, instigating change in the workplace and demanding fulfilling relationships. The way is being paved by high profile female leaders such as Arianna Huffington, who wrote about the importance of wellness in her books Thrive and the Sleep Revolution.
2. We become aware of trauma
When we truly tune into our bodies through mindfulness we become aware of abuse we have suffered, of times we said yes when we meant no. This could be medical procedures that were not carried out sensitively or doctors that didn’t listen, our wishes being ignored while giving birth, the times we were pushed into something we didn’t want to do or we thought we had to do.
This can also include the ways we have abused ourselves – how we punished our bodies through over-zealous exercise routines or starvation diets to achieve society’s ‘ideal’ body shape, the sleep we missed through working too hard, bad relationships we stayed in, the way we let ourselves be put down or mistreated.
As we become aware of our bodies through mindfulness, the pain of past trauma surfaces and demands to be acknowledged. I believe this awareness fuels movements such as #metoo and the Empowered Birth Project as womxn awaken to their rights and refuse to be silenced anymore.
3.We become aware of our bodies
Womxn’s bodies are the object of unbelievable scrutiny. We’re not meant to be too fat, too skinny, have droopy boobs or small boobs, stretchmarks, cellulite, body hair, frizzy hair, grey hair, wrinkles, eye bags, the list goes on. We shouldn’t wear too much makeup or too little, we shouldn’t dress too frumpily or we invite ridicule or too revealingly or we invite unwanted attention. We shouldn’t breastfeed in public, or talk about periods, or fart, burp, or have body odour.
We are expected to be clean, sanitised, polite. Our sexuality is the premise of fulfilling male desires – with porn normalising abusive and degrading scenes.
But as we focus on our body and breath with mindfulness we start to appreciate our bodies in a new way. Not as an object which constantly betrays us by its lack of perfection which needs to be controlled or whipped into shape, or a commodity to be consumed, but as something we have a personal relationship with. In this context, carrying out a body scan or breathing meditation becomes a political act of reclaiming the body. We learn to feel and love our bodies from the inside out.
We may not feel valued by others for many reasons – our gender, sexuality, race, disability, religion, marital status, body shape or political views to name a few. But in each breathing meditation we honour our own breath – the one thing that will be with us until the day we die.
We choose to feel our breath, to be aware of it, to regard it with kindness. We choose to listen to our bodies and live in tune with them. We choose to love ourselves.
There is a quote from the poet Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
That to me, is what mindfulness is.