Have you ever heard a story that changed the way you looked at certain aspects of life? I heard a beautiful story on the radio the other day that told of why Sydney becomes awash with shades of purple/blue throughout the month of November as the Jacaranda trees that are spread throughout Sydney come into blossom.
The story is that through the middle and later parts of the last century, some of the maternity wards in hospitals around Sydney gave the Jacaranda plants to the mums of the newborn babies as a gift when they left hospital to return to their homes.
Now every time I look at a Jacaranda tree, I immediately smile and think “I wonder if that was planted when a mum and her baby returned home to that house?”
And there’s an even bigger impact on my thinking as I started to mindfully consider what was going on with this immediate and happy association I now have with the Jacaranda trees. What I’ve started to practice, and I recommend you give this a try as well, is what I’m referring to as Intentional Mindfulness.
Intentional Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally prompting yourself to be more mindfully living the important moments of your every-day life. And the way you do that, is through creating intentional associations.
I’ve already explained how when I see a Jacaranda in bloom I immediately associate it with newborn babies and the miracle of life… I know, it’s a bit ‘out there’, but stay with me. This happy thought through association can bring me right into the wonder of the day that I’m living, rather than just existing and living ‘in habit’ and letting each day just pass by.
Another example is while I’m on one of my regular morning jogs I pass by a hedge of rosemary that our local council has planted in the garden beds that follow the beach side walk. Now, I could just pass by and notice them, but what I do is put my hand out as I jog pass and run it along the hedge of rosemary and then rub my hands together and raise them to my nose to take in the beautiful aroma of the rosemary. My intentional association that I’ve created is with the wonderful gift of sharing meals with my family and friends. This puts me right in the moment… I am being intentionally mindful at that moment in my routine jog.
Now I realise there’s an argument here that I am actually not being mindful of what I’m doing… that is, jogging. But let me explain the difference in what I’m suggesting here. When I’m jogging, I don’t run with ear phones listening to music. I want to be alert of the sounds around me. I’m not saying everyone ought to do that, but for me, it’s too dangerous to not be able to hear a car reversing out of a driveway in front of me, or people coming around a corner that I’m about to turn or bike riders coming up from behind me travelling in the same direction but needing to pass me by.
So I would argue that I am fairly aware (perhaps not mindful) while I’m jogging. And the reality is the mechanical practice of jogging can pretty much look after itself, which then frees me up for moments of intentional mindfulness, created through intentional associations, which help to make each jogging experience slightly different and more enjoyable.
At work, I have created opportunities for intentional mindfulness when I’m about to send an email, or answer a phone by placing quotes and reminders around my workspace to focus on my intention for whoever it is I’m about to email or call or talk to on the phone.
In my book Intentionomics I referred to this as practical prodding, however, as my research on mindfulness, habit and intention continues, the terms intentional mindfulness and intentional association are more appropriate.
So what’s my point?
While I’m not a believer that we can be intentionally mindful at each moment of every day – our conscious minds are finite in their capacity to store information, and therefore it just wouldn’t be practical or possible… or at the very least, not for most of us anyway.
However, as I hear more and more people say to me that they can’t believe how fast each day flies by and how quickly the years seem to pass, I’m convinced that the practice of intentional association as I’ve briefly explained it here can help us to be more intentionally mindful throughout our every-day lives, which helps us to live and mindfully enjoy more of the moments of every day, rather than just habitually live through them.