7 Day Mindfulness Challenge **Day 4** Alfred James
Interview with Alfred James
Why is mindfulness important?
Mindfulness is important because it is a natural pathway to inner peace and contentment and better mental and physical health.
Mindfulness is already in our ownership. It is an innate state, a way of being that we are all capable of. All we have to do practice mindfulness is cultivate and manifest its presence in daily life.
This then brings about the question, why mindfulness?
Well, deep down we all know that spending our lives stressing over meeting deadlines while slumped over a desk all day worrying about mortgage payments isn’t the way nature intended the human life to be lived.
We aren’t designed to continually stress over the past and endure anxiety over the future, or for everything we do and think about to revolve around economics and material goals.
The reality is that much of the time we are acting out learned cultures that promise so much but deliver so little reward in terms of true happiness and contentment.
This lifestyle is detrimental to our mental and physical health. We know this, but we’re so stuck on auto-pilot, following everyone else’s advice and expectations, that we neglect our true ‘self’.
But if we stop for a moment and let go of the grasping and striving, step into the present moment and take stock of reality, we suddenly get a glimpse of the actor playing the part.
We fall awake into the world and realise that much of what we worry and stress about is wholly unnecessary. We see that preconceptions and judgements of self and others are causing suffering of mind and preventing us finding harmony with the world.
Mindfulness helps us realise that life is a journey, not a final destination. Life isn’t something we’re going to achieve one day and receive admiration from our peers. Life isn’t something that happens to successful people, or when you reach retirement – it’s now.
The reality is that each day we get one step closer to not existing. Like any other link in the interdependent cycle of nature, we are required only for a limited time. But rather than seeing death as something morbid, mindfulness teaches us to use this realisation for self-liberation; to truly start living.
How is mindfulness a part of your life?
I use mindfulness as my life compass.
When I feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or sad, I use mindfulness to collect my scattered - usually worn out and overworked - mind and come home to myself. I am then able to subjectively see the true reality of the situation and steer my ship to calmer, trustworthier waters.
Through meditation techniques taught to me over the years, I have learned how to bring my mind back home using my breath, objects and sounds, or simply by standing still for a moment.
What is your favourite mindfulness technique/exercise?
I learned my favourite (most useful), mindfulness exercise from Tibetan Dzogchen lama, Sogyal Rinpoche. This technique enables me to separate the grasping mind from the true nature of mind.
This means essentially seeing the mind in two forms.
The grasping mind is the “appearance”; a superficial, vacuous form that brings with it mental suffering. The nature of mind is the “essence”; my true self, if you like, that allows me to be fully present, to let go and see the true reality of things.
This technique is first achieved through seated meditation, but with time you are able to access the true nature of mind quickly, using only momentary concentration and deep breathing.
My book, Mindfulness Exercises contains lots of practical exercises for cultivating mindfulness in everyday life.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to create a regular mindfulness practice?
Well, if you’re reading this, then you’re already engaged in a mindfulness practice. The very fact that you have consciously taken a step to find out more about mindfulness means you have begun your journey.
That said, it’s worth remembering that mindfulness is not a doctrine or religion of sorts. It is not a set of rules designed by one person for others to follow. Of course there are teachers of mindfulness such as myself, but we are merely guides and motivators, not preachers or scholars.
Everyone’s life journey is different, and we all reach different milestones at different times. So don’t force your practice. Engage your mind when it calls you and simply allow yourself to be present to receive and follow the teachings that will arise naturally in your awareness.
Alfred James was born in London in 1978. A mindfulness teacher and author, he is the founder of Pocketmindfulness.com and writer of the book series of the same name. James teaches mindfulness as a pathway to helping people cope with stress and anxiety, and as a way of attaining acceptance of self and others. A qualified Life Coach and student of Eastern philosophy, James has travelled extensively in South East Asia, learning mindfulness meditation from a number of notable teachers, including Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev) and Tibetan Dzogchen lama, Sogyal Rinpoche. You can read Alfred James’ teachings and musings at www.pocketmindfulness.com