Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world - by Mark Williams

[The Three-minute Breathing Space meditation is to be done twice a day and also whenever you need it at any other time. The Breathing Space is not a break or diversion from reality,but a way of re-engaging with it. After you've completed the Breathing Space, there may be the tendency to immediately (and mindlessly) carry on where you left off. When this happens, it's worth pausing for a few moments to decide how you wish to proceed. Mindfulness gives you the option of acting more skilfully, so it's best to use the quiet moments after meditation to decide – consciously – what you want to do.]

Tension, unhappiness or exhaustion aren't ‘problems' that can be solved. They are emotions. They reflect states of mind and body. As such, they cannot be solved – only felt. Once you've felt them – that is, acknowledged their existence – and let go of the tendency to explain or get rid of them, they are much more likely to vanish naturally, like the mist on a spring morning.

If Doing mode is a trap, then Being mode is freedom. Mindfulness meditation is the door through which you can enter this Being mode and, with a little practice, you can learn to open this door whenever you need to. Mindful awareness – or mindfulness – spontaneously arises out of this Being mode when we learn to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment, to things as they actually are. In mindfulness, we start to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be, how we want it to be, or what we fear it might become.


  1. Automatic pilot versus conscious choice

  2. Analyzing versus sensing

  3. Striving versus accepting

  4. Seeing thoughts as solid and real versus treating them as mental events

  5. Avoidance versus approaching

  6. Mental time travel versus remaining in the present moment

  7. Depleting versus nourishing activities

Mindfulness Week One: Waking Up to the Autopilot

Choose one of the following (or another of your own choosing), and each day for the next week, see if you can remember to pay attention while you are doing it. You do not have to slow it down, or even enjoy it. Simply do what you normally do, but see if you can be fully alive to it as you do so. • Brushing your teeth • Walking from one room to another at home or work • Drinking tea, coffee, juice • Taking out the rubbish • Loading the washing machine or tumble dryer.


This week, see if you can notice which chairs you normally sit on at home, in a café or bar or at work (during meetings, for example). Make a deliberate choice to try another chair, or alter the position of the chair you use. It is extraordinary how much we are creatures of habit, and how we take comfort from such sameness. There is nothing wrong with this at all, but it can feed a sense of ‘taking things for granted' that allows the automatic pilot to thrive. You can easily stop noticing the sights, sounds, smells of everything around you and even the feel of a chair supporting you can become over-familiar. Notice how your perspective can change just by changing chairs.

Mindfulness Week Two: Keeping the Body in Mind

The Body Scan reveals the Doing Mode.

Appreciation here and now. Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities? Can you pause for a moment when pleasant moments occur? Help yourself pause by noticing: • what body sensations you feel at these moments? • what thoughts are around? • what feelings are here?


Mindfulness Week Three: The Mouse in the Maze

The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself. If you do something in a negative or critical way, if you over-think or worry or carry out a task through gritted teeth, then you will activate your mind's aversion system. This will narrow the focus of your life. You will become like a mouse with an owl complex: more anxious, less flexible, less creative. If, however, you do exactly the same thing in an open-hearted, welcoming manner, you thereby activate the mind's ‘approach' system: your life has a chance to become richer, warmer, more flexible, and more creative.

Mindfulness Week Four: Moving Beyond the Rumour Mill

Our thoughts are like rumours in the mind. They might be true, but then again, they might not be. Your thoughts can be likened to a radio that's been left on in the background. You can listen – or rather observe – but you need not elaborate on what you receive or act on what you feel.

Meditation is a simple practice that gains its power from repetition. It's only through this that we can become aware of the repeating patterns in our own minds. Ironically, meditative repetition frees us from endlessly repeating our past mistakes and the automatic pilot that drives self-defeating and self-attacking thoughts and actions. Through repetition, we gradually tune into the subtle differences that each moment brings.

The Intensely Frustrating Queue meditation: Stand tall. Breathe. Allow. Be here. This moment, too, is a moment of your life.


Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies – but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected – the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these. Most of us only go to see a film when there's something specific we want to watch. If you turn up at a set time and then choose what to see, you may discover that the experience will be totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you'd never normally have considered. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness and choice. Before you go, notice any thoughts that may arise such as, ‘I haven't got time for pleasure', or, ‘What if there is nothing on that I'll enjoy?' You could call these Practice Interfering Thoughts (PITs) – they undermine your enthusiasm for taking action. They are the real ‘PIT-falls' of daily life, discouraging your intention to do something that might nourish your life in important ways. Once you're inside the cinema, just forget about all this and be consumed by the film.

Mindfulness Week Five: Turning Towards Difficulties

Mindfulness is not about detachment. In short, mindful acceptance gives us choices.


Mindfulness Week Six: Trapped in the Past or Living in the Present?

The Befriending meditation may become part of daily life as much as any other practice you've learned so far. See if you can, as much as you are able to, infuse your life with empathy for others. This may not be easy. Many people can genuinely appear selfish, unkind and ice cold, but this may often be a reflection of their own busyness and lack of awareness of the effect they have on others. If you bring kindness to bear towards such people, you'll soon realise that they are, to a greater or lesser extent, just like us all: stumbling through life trying to find happiness and meaning. See if it is possible to feel their predicament.


When you have finished taking a Breathing Space, spend a few moments noting your thoughts and feelings. See if you can relate differently to your thoughts. You might: • write down your thoughts • watch the thoughts come and go • view your thoughts as thoughts, not as objective reality • name your thought patterns, such as ‘morbid thoughts', ‘worrying thoughts' or ‘anxious thoughts', or simply just, ‘thinking, thinking' • ask yourself whether you're overtired, jumping to conclusions, over-generalising, exaggerating the significance of the situation or unreasonably expecting perfection.


  1. Reclaiming your life: Think back to a time in your life when things seemed less frantic, before the time when some tragedy or increase in workload took over your daily existence. Recall in as much detail as you can some of the activities that you used to do at that time. These may be things you did by yourself (reading your favourite magazines or taking time to listen to a track from a favourite piece of music, going out for walks or bike rides) or together with friends or family (from playing board games to going to the theatre). Choose one of these activities and plan to do it this week. It may take five minutes or five hours, it might be important or trivial, it might involve others or it could be by yourself. It is only important that it should be something that puts you back in touch with a part of your life that you had forgotten – a part of you that you may have been telling yourself was lost somehow, that you could not get back to. Don't wait until you feel like doing it; do it anyway and see what happens. It's time to reclaim your life.

  2. Do a good-natured deed for someone else: Why not carry out a random act of kindness? It needn't be something big. You could help a workmate tidy their desk, assist a neighbour in carrying their shopping or do something for your partner that you know they hate doing themselves. You don't always have to tell them you're the one who did it – just do it for the sake of it, with warmth and understanding.

Mindfulness Week Seven:When Did You Stop Dancing?

When mood is low, motivation follows action, rather than the other way around. When you put the action first, motivation follows. So, after you have used the Breathing Space at times of stress this week, pause momentarily and ask yourself: • What do I need for myself right now? • How can I best take care of myself right now? You have three options for skilful action: • You can do something pleasurable. • You can do something that will give you a sense of satisfaction or mastery over your life. • Or you can continue acting mindfully.


Pick a few ordinary activities from your daily life that you can turn into ‘mindfulness bells', that is, reminders to stop and attend. There's a list below of things you might like to turn into bells. Why not photocopy this page and the next and stick them on your fridge as a gentle reminder?

  • Preparing food. Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness – vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Focus on the feel of the knife as it slices through vegetables of different texture, or the smell released as each vegetable is chopped.

  • Eating. Try having part of a meal in silence or without the distraction of TV or the radio. Really focus on the food – colours, shapes, perhaps thinking about how this food came to you, the sensations of eating. See how easily you taste the first mouthful and no other. What does the fourth mouthful taste like?

  • Washing up. A great opportunity for exploring sensations, constantly coming back to the present moment, rinsing this dish, water flowing, sensation of temperature, etc.

  • Driving. Be aware of deciding where to focus your mind while you are driving. If you decide to focus on the upcoming meeting, etc, know that this is the decision you have made. If you decide to make your primary focus something other than the actual driving, notice how quickly you can shift driving into the foreground of your attention when the situation demands. Notice if you are leaving the actual act of driving too much in the background of your attention! Take some of your driving time to make your primary focus the driving – all the sensations, the movement of your hands, feet and so on, the visual scanning you are doing, the shifting of your vision from close up to far away and so on.

  • Walking. Pay attention to the actual sensations of walking; notice when the mind goes elsewhere and come back to ‘just walking'.

  • Become a model citizen!. When crossing the street, use the pedestrian signals as an opportunity to stand quietly and focus on your breath, rather than an opportunity to try to beat the lights.

  • Red lights. An opportunity to sit quietly, peacefully and be aware of your breath.

  • Listening. When you are listening, notice when you are not listening – when you start to think of something else, what you are going to say in response, etc. Come back to actually listening.

Mindfulness Week Eight: Your Wild and Precious Life

Week Eight is the rest of your life. The task now is to weave the practices into a routine that is sustainable in the long term.

  • Start the day with mindfulness.

  • Use Breathing Spaces to punctuate your day. Using Breathing Spaces at preset times helps you to re-establish your focus in the here and now, so that you can respond with wisdom and compassion to thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as you move through the day.

  • Befriend your feelings.

  • When you feel tired, frustrated, anxious, angry or any other powerful emotion, take a Breathing Space.

  • Mindful activities.

  • Increase your level of exercise.

  • Remember the breath.