The Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

By Cara Waudby Tolley | May 2, 2022

Start your journey towards a more mindful life with Simon Alexander Ong to guide you through your first steps and breaths.

Described by The New York Times as a “700-hour silent opera”, it was an exhibition that promoted silence as a medium of communication – a calming space for deep reflection, for curious observation and, more importantly, for being present and absolutely in the moment.

The performance artist, Marina Abramović, would sit motionless and silent for nearly eight hours a day, six days of the week, for three months. Opposite her was an empty chair for anyone to come and join her for as long as they wanted. While there was some concern that the chair opposite her would remain empty for much of the exhibition; it never was.

There was always a queue – some waited for hours, some slept overnight outside the museum, and some returned to sit opposite Abramovic multiple times. 78 people, in fact, returned to sit more than 20 times.

Writing for WNYC, Carolina Miranda shared that, “When I finally sat down before Abramovic, the bright lights blocked out the crowd, the hall’s boisterous chatter seemed to recede into the background, and time became elastic (I have no idea how long I was there).”

She added, “And for the first time since standing in line for over two days, I had absolutely no trouble focusing.” The idea of this exhibition called The Artist is Present was to bring the energy of the audience into the present moment; to be mindful and fully awake. Abramovic created a space for her audience members to observe their thoughts, feelings and environment without judgment, only curiosity.

When was the last time that you intentionally disconnected from living each day on autopilot to just be and engage with your surroundings?

While mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, it has grown in popularity across the western world through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (“MBSR”) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Studies have also demonstrated how practicing mindfulness has a range of benefits on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

  • It helps us to see possibilities that we were previously blind to.
  • It helps us to understand how connected we are to everyone and everything around us.
  • It helps us to appreciate that we are not our thoughts, merely the observer of them.

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It doesn’t matter how old you are – everyone from young children to the elderly can experience these benefits. For example, a San Francisco-based school saw the number of student suspensions fall, attendance rates reach the highest in the city, and their position in the school rankings climb, following the introduction of daily mindfulness sessions for pupils. While a 2016 study of military veterans found that a regular mindfulness and meditation practice was highly effective in reducing the symptoms of depression.

By mastering your emotions and energy, you develop the capacity to cope with uncertainty. It’s why, when we think of self-care, it must include the practice of mindfulness. When you make time each day to reflect and observe with open curiosity, you elevate your consciousness. When operating at a higher level of consciousness, you begin to realise just how interconnected everything is and express greater compassion for yourself and others. As the late Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, noted: “When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders.” The ordinary suddenly becomes divine as you see your world through new eyes.

You also begin to experience more moments of sonder – a word that John Koenig describes in his book The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as being “the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own […] thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Silence and stillness

Mindfulness has played an instrumental role in my own life. As well as truly understanding that silence is far from empty but full of answers, I have learnt that in moments of complete stillness and deep awareness, I’ve developed a closer connection to my true self, allowing my creativity to blossom and experience an awakening of clarity. The gateway drug to wisdom it seems, is silence and stillness. It is time well spent as it opens the pathway to your personal evolution and growth.

When you are still, you are able to listen – to your mind, to your heart, to your body and to the world that is around you.

The ability to be completely present and connected to our surroundings is what saved five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of the Andaman and Nicobar islands from the tsunami that struck the Asian coastline at the end of 2004. These tribes are among the least touched by modern civilisation, and yet they were able to miraculously survive.

They survived because they knew it was coming – they noticed subtle changes in the way the tide came and went and in the behaviour of animals on the mainland, such as elephants stampeding towards higher ground and the unusual silence from the islands’ noisier insects. One local environmentalist shared that these tribes “can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense, which we don’t possess.” And as a result, they were able to flee the shores of their islands well before the first waves hit.

I invite you to take a moment right now to sample the depth of connection to yourself and the world around you that can be experienced when you concentrate your energy on the present moment. Give this a try and simply notice what you notice:

  1. Close your eyes and connect with the rise and fall of your breath. Follow it all the way in and then all the way out again.
  2. As you begin to feel yourself entering a more relaxed state, bring your energy to the sounds around you as you connect with each in turn.
  3. From this place of awareness, bring your energy to each part of your body, noticing the sensations you feel as you scan upwards from your toes to the tip of your head.
  4. Bathe yourself in this moment for as long as you need before slowly opening your eyes and moving forward in your day with greater intent, presence and connection.

Some people will say that they are too busy for mindfulness, but this is one of the reasons why we should all prioritise mindful moments in our day to manage our energy better. Energy is everything and if we are always running our lives with an energy deficit, we will not be able to focus on what matters most in life. It is why most end up living as if they are never going to die and then die having never really lived.

Practising mindfulness can simply be about approaching everyday events in a more engaged way or
using micro-moments in your day to revel in all the beauty that surrounds us. It isn’t exclusively reserved for the activities of breathwork and meditation.

By cultivating this important skill of mindfulness, you will be ready for whatever challenges the day may throw your way. You will be protective of your energy; you won’t let the past or future steal today from you because now, this very moment, is all that you have.

Mindfulness will eventually become more than just a practice for you; it will become a way of living. Your energy will be transformed, and everyone that steps into your energetic field will feel it.

About the author

Simon Alexander Ong is a personal development entrepreneur, coach and public speaker. His debut book, Energize, will be published in April 2022 by Penguin.