How to live in the moment

Recently I have become slightly obsessed with focusing on the tip of my nose, not for any cosmetic dilemma but as a result of talking to Professor Mark Williams from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. In a nutshell, mindfulness means fully living in the moment and knowing what you are doing as you are doing it, rather than the mindless autopilot that many of us operate on. ‘We tend to almost sleepwalk through life,’ explains Professor Williams. ‘Mindfulness is cultivating the ability to remain aware by a form of mental training. You can start by sitting comfortably on a chair and focusing your attention for a minute on the tip of your nose [there you are], feeling your breath going in and out of your nostrils. Then absorb the sensations of sitting – your feet on the floor, bottom on the chair.’

After a few seconds, your mind is likely to wander. Surprisingly, perhaps, Williams says, ‘This is good. Say to yourself, “This is what minds do,” and return to focusing on your breath. With regular practice, you soon realise your mind will wander, but you don’t have to wander with it. You understand that you have a choice over what you think.’ I recommend reading Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, published by Piatkus/13.99 (just click on the book name to find it online).

Mindfulness is based on Buddhist meditation. It was reinterpreted about 20 years ago by US biomedical scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, who describes it as ‘our willingness to show up fully in our lives and live them as if they really mattered… It is profoundly nurturing and life-transforming.’ It applies to everyone, at all ages. It helps us to concentrate, immerse ourselves in play so we can relax and recharge, eat wisely, and cope with sadness and difficulties more smoothly.

Research shows that mindfulness is as effective as taking drugs to combat depression, and even the avalanche of negative feelings that can lead to suicide. One characteristic of depression is that negative thoughts far outnumber positive ones – one sufferer described feeling ‘as if someone lifted a lid on my head and filled it with sadness’.  Practising mindfulness helps you to stand back from those negative thoughts and not judge yourself as a bad or hopeless person.

‘A sad mood becomes toxic when we react to our thoughts by feeling guilty, angry, hopeless, ashamed and depressed about being depressed. In mindfulness classes, people learn to cultivate greater gentleness towards themselves,’ explains Williams. ‘You can learn to dissolve these destructive emotions and thoughts and let them go, rather than brooding on them so they overwhelm you.’

The sufferer quoted above was the talented and much-loved photographer Clare Richardson, who took her own life this spring. Studies show that learning mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can significantly reduce the rate of relapse in people like Clare. The Oxford Mindfulness Centre aims to raise £500,000 for research into suicidal depression and postnatal depression, as well as training more teachers. Please contribute if you can. Visit or call 01865-613141.



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