For a general introduction to mindfulness and how it relates to sexuality see Mindful Sex: Tuning In, Turning On
One common misperception of mindfulness or meditation is that the goal is to “clear your mind”. Therefore, many people tell me “I’ve tried meditation before, and it didn’t work for me. My mind just races too much.”
Well, their mind is doing exactly what is was designed to do – to think, to ruminate, to worry, to analyse – because all of these mind activities have survival benefits to humans.
When humans emerged tens of thousands of years ago, the landscape was very different to how we live now. There were many predators to fear and finding edible, non-poisonous foods was more hit-and-miss. The human brain therefore evolved to constantly scan the environment for trouble, and to have a negative bias (ie. it remembers nasty experiences more readily than pleasant experiences) so as not to make the same mistake twice.
Since then, our environment has changed substantially, but our brains have changed very little – this means we still have the tendency to worry and ruminate, even when we know it is not directly helpful.
For this reason, mindfulness (present moment focus) does not come easily to humans, and aiming to “clear the mind” often leads to frustration rather than zen-like contentment.
Instead of trying to clear the mind, I like to focus on the idea of increasing our ability to have “mindful moments”, and developing this skill so that we can draw upon it more often in our day-to-day life and in our sex life.
And you most likely have already had many mindful moments in your life. Here are a few examples you might relate to:
- Feeling in “the zone” or in a “flow state”
- Eating a breathtaking meal or dessert and letting every part of your mouth experience the flavours
- Being particularly engrossed in an enjoyable activity
- Stopping and staring at a beautiful sunset or view
- Listening to a favourite song and belting out the chorus
- Being really engaged in a great conversation, movie or lecture
The commonality amongst all of these mindful moments is that they come easily and without effort – you just naturally get absorbed in some experiences, even if it is only for a few seconds. But in order for us to increase our ability to call upon mindfulness, we can try to cultivate more mindful moments by consciously and deliberately practicing the skill.
Here are four key aspects and attitudes of mindfulness that we can practice:
Mindfulness is the act of noticing what is happening in the moment, and observing both external experiences (things occurring outside of ourselves) and also our inner experiences (thoughts, feelings, sensations) at any one moment.
2. Curiosity and non-judgment
Instead of evaluating experiences as good or bad and right or wrong, mindfulness allows you just to notice rather than judge; to be curious rather than evaluative.
3. Acceptance and openness to current experiences
Rather than comparing an experience to something bigger or better, being mindful means accepting this experience just as it is right now.
4. Deliberate refocussing attention
Mindfulness is not easy, and involves the continual, deliberate and gentle refocussing of attention when you notice that you have become distracted.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our attention to the present moment in a manner that is curious and non-judgemental. Mindfulness involves the deliberate, continual and gentle refocusing of attention.
When my clients want to learn about mindfulness and how to apply it to their sex life, I strongly encourage them to begin by practicing the skill in their day-to-day lives, to start creating more mindful moments. Practicing in this way helps us to build new neural pathways, which makes it easier to be mindful over time in all areas of our life, including our love life.
Here are a few suggestion for creating more mindful moments in your day:
- Try bringing your full awareness to one simple activity each day. This could be eating breakfast, washing the dishes, driving to work, drinking coffee, a conversation, etc. Try to observe all the small details of the activity and engage all of the senses (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight);
- Pause and notice your breath – notice the sensation in your nose, chest and belly, notice the speed of your breath, notice the feel of the air coming out on your top lip, etc.;
- Bring your full attention to a delicious treat. Slow down the experience and notice what is happening in all of the five senses;
- Choose two to three moments each day to pause and briefly scan the body for any sensations you can feel (e.g. the texture of clothing, sun on your skin, any tension or tightness, the feel of your body in your seat);
- Apply moisturiser to your body with special attention in the morning or evening;
- Pause and notice the sunrise, sunset or moonrise;
- Use a post-it note reminder or set a reminder on your phone for a mindful moment each day;
- Watch your children or pets play without checking your phone;
- Don’t multitask – do one thing at a time and just focus on that.
And remember, mindfulness is challenging and we are not seeking perfection here. Pick one small thing and give it a try.
Dr. Alice Hucker