In his novel The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac actively throws away convention or expectation to instead do what feels most authentic to him in the moment. This idea of radical authenticity creates space for self-discovery through reflection and awareness. Applying this idea, I approached being mindful as a challenge of what best allows me to access a calm, uncluttered space.
“I am the earth, I am the sky, I am the sea.”
This mantra is something I repeat in my head whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with pretty much any emotion in any situation: anxiety, frustration, anger, restlessness, confusion, anything that would cloud or clutter my mind. For me, this is mindfulness in practice. The beauty about this mantra is that it is less demanding than full-on meditation and therefore can be used anywhere at any time.
Though different from traditional ideas about mindfulness, approaching it through Kerouac’s lens provides simplicity and adaptability in an otherwise rigid practice, allowing the idea of mindfulness to take whatever form suits you best.
The Practice of Mindfulness is Supported by the Science of Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness has proven effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, highlighting the mind’s critical role in regulating the body’s state of overall health. The mind plays its part as a health agent through the relaxation response, or an individual’s personal ability to encourage their body to release chemicals that slow down muscles and organs and increase blood flow to the brain. Typically, this is achieved through silent meditation. The health benefits shown in most studies are a direct result of a decrease in blood pressure because of the relaxation response that was properly elicited.
The meditative practice has proven to be helpful in combating depression by training you to recognize your triggers of stress and anxiety in order to mitigate them before they become a lasting issue. Through the lens of cognitive behavioural therapy, practicing mindfulness reduces cognitive vulnerability to emotional distress, equipping you with mental tools to combat issues head-on.
The science is there: mindfulness helps to improve an individual’s overall health. Evoking Jack Kerouac is thus even more important: finding a practice that calms you and centers you can have positive implications for your overall health.
Back to Jack: Simplicity is Key
Mindfulness is not just about being present in exciting moments, but about having awareness of yourself and your surroundings in unremarkable ones too. Through Kerouac’s teaching, practicing mindfulness is flexible and adaptable. It can be achieved wherever you are and however you like, so long as the end result is feeling present and in the moment. There are many ways to make mindfulness work for you and the good news is you won't have to look far to find them.
My best advice? Go out in nature. When life seems to be passing by and moments feel monotonous, I like to leave my phone and other distractions at home and head toward the ocean. My favourite spot is atop a big boulder on the shore, which acts as the perfect place to rest as I sit and watch the waves roll in from the horizon. My senses are heightened because I am present. Feeling the sun beat down to warm my skin and smelling that familiar ocean smell create a moment full of life. A quick dip in the ocean is like a full body reset; because the water is so cold, it's hard not to notice every moment that passes by as I am submerged, weightless. Leaving the beach, I feel refreshed and awakened. For me, stepping away from my routine to be surrounded by the nature of the beach helps me refocus my attention to the present moment and to appreciate the world around me, even when it gets unremarkable.
The key to making mindfulness a more tangible part of your life is consistency. Make a conscious effort to be present every single day. Whether it's an hour after lunch or before or after bed, step away from distractions and engage with your mindful trigger. Let your mind wander as you sit on what in the grass or intently listen to your favourite album and play with ideas of appreciation, attention and connection.
If you're still having trouble, write something. Writing helps me to figure out what part of my day was important and, in doing so, helps to contextualize my emotional state. It often reveals an underlying cause for my distance from the present moment and can help me to shift my focus and improve my state of mind by making better choices in future having learned from reflecting on days previous. It may seem counterintuitive to rehash the past as a means for remaining in the moment, but getting out past concerns, hopes and fears can also help to declutter your mind, making it easier to practice mindfulness from a clean slate in the future.
Combining all three make for a great place to start finding the mindfulness practice that best suits you.For me, it’s a mantra, but for you it could be anything so long as it comes from an authentic place. In The Dharma Bums, the main character Ray reflects on his beach excursion, noticing he is, “Happy. Just in [his] swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, jumping, running – that’s the way to live.” That authentic place is easier to find than you think. Most of the time, it's sitting right in front of you, you just have to be mindful enough to see it.