In our busy day-to-day lives, it can be hard to be still, to be quiet. But quieting your mind and practicing mindfulness can help you enjoy life more, at work and at home.
“Sometimes you communicate better with people when you talk less,” said Audree Larson, owner of Walking in Mindfulness. She leads silent mindfulness walks at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids about once a month during the spring, summer and fall.
The walks help participants practice paying attention to the present moment instead of focusing on stressful work situations, to-do lists or future goals. It also gives participants a break from talking, which is not allowed during the walks.
Even though being silent around a group of people feels odd at first, Larson says the group setting is a great way to practice being more mindful.
“When I walk by myself, my brain is busy making plans, and I might as well be at a desk,” she said. “When you walk silently with other people, you develop a communal solitude.”
Some portions of the walk require so much attention that participants are almost forced to put their thoughts aside.
“When the trail gets narrow, you feel like you’re in the jungle. You can’t think about your job because it’s too encompassing — nature is literally on you.”
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Many people have participated in her walks to relieve work stress. Larson said the walks are particularly effective for reducing stress because there’s no specific goal to accomplish. “Don’t expect anything. There’s no ‘when will I get there.’”
When co-workers take lunchtime walks, Larson says the natural inclination is to use the time to vent.
“Instead, try doing a silent walk around the building together. You may notice a shift in conversation afterward,” she said.
Whenever you’re trying to be more mindful, Larson encourages people to picture balling up unwanted thoughts and chucking them away. When trains roll by on the tracks near the nature center trails, Larson pictures tossing her thoughts on the train as it rolls off into the distance. She says people can use these types of visualizations to try to be more mindful throughout their day.
“Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening to you right now.”
Larson uses an analogy of a squawking bird to describe how you can be more mindful at work, “You don’t judge a squawking bird — you accept it as part of the environment. But, when you get to the office and you hear a co-worker squawking in the next cubicle, you start judging.”
Larson also gave an example of a fallen tree in the forest to describe a calm approach to problem-solving at work.
“When you encounter a tree blocking your path, you don’t get irritated at the tree; you find a way around it.” In the same way, when someone is putting up a roadblock at work, she recommends trying to find a way around it instead of becoming irritated.
Practicing mindfulness helps Larson feel more in tune with others, and she feels a kinship with mindfulness walk participants even if they haven’t spoken a word.
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“To get through our day, we don’t have to check out or always be on point. Rather, when we are mindful with others, even silently, they feel it, and it creates a shift of validation and productivity.”
The next Walking in Mindfulness Silent Meditative Walk at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m.
Quotes on Mindfulness:
“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
“It takes a little bit of mindfulness and a little bit of attention to others to be a good listener, which helps cultivate emotional nurturing and engagement.” — Deepak Chopra
“The key to creating the mental space before responding is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of being present: paying attention to and accepting what is happening in our lives. It helps us to be aware of and step away from our automatic and habitual reactions to our everyday experiences.” — Elizabeth Thornton
Books on Mindfulness:
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Dr. Danny Penman