As the New Year draws near, I imagine it’s safe to say that you’d like to approach your goals for 2019 from a place of awareness and insight. You’d like to know you’re making choices that make sense for you and setting intentions that are based on your unique, albeit unusual, life situation. You want to feel a sense of balance in a spinning world. You want to know if some unexpected storm blows your way, your goals won’t be thrown overboard…again. And, whether you’ve named it or not, you want to do all of this from a place of mindfulness.
The great news is – mindfulness doesn’t have to be woo-woo, stuffy or overly time-consuming. I promise! Cultivating an accessible, adaptable and expat-friendly mindfulness practice is completely within your grasp. You have all of the skills you need already.
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating awareness of what’s happening as it’s happening. A regular mindfulness practice is beneficial for physical, mental and emotional health.
But wait – there’s more! Mindfulness also has benefits that are perfect for a globally mobile life because the practice of mindfulness helps us learn to come home inside ourselves.
Expat life is full of ups and downs, unpredictability and insecurity. Even when we’re at our best, we can feel as though the ground is shifting out from under us. Mindfulness helps expats weather transition and engage better in new and unusual situations by teaching us how to be fully right here, right now, no matter where our feet are planted.
Mindfulness helps us ask the question – What’s this right here? Which is awesome because right here is the only place that you actually are!
These 13 everyday mindfulness practices are the perfect place to start your 2019.
Practice stillness every day.
Find a comfortable place to sit and set a timer for 5 minutes, notice your breath as it goes in and out of your body. Your thoughts will wander, opinions and judgments and distractions will pop up. Simply notice them (like clouds passing through the sky) and return to noticing your breath. If you find it difficult to do this exercise while seated, try a formal mindfulness practice that involves movement – like yoga or mindful walking. Check out this article for an in-depth explanation as well as some ideas and even some practice meditations.
Give a name to your stories.
Do you find your mental wheels spin over and over again rehashing the same stories? Being mindful enables us to see these stories more clearly so that we can either take action or allow them to pass. When you notice your thoughts are stuck with the same argument, analysis, judgment or story – trying pausing for a few seconds, give the story a name (something like “I hate this place story,” or “It will be better when…story”) and then consciously choose what you’d like to do next.
Spend time in your body.
Notice what’s happening in your body. Do regular check-ins with your body throughout the day in both resting and active positions. This is especially helpful when you’re in a new place or outside your comfort zone. Your body has an incredible wealth of information to offer you about what feels right and what may need adjustment. If you have time, a body scan meditation can be a good way to learn how to pay better attention to your body.
Tune in to your surroundings.
Even as we move from place to place, discovering new homes in every corner of the globe, there is a point at which it all begins to feel familiar. We grow, however, when we’re able to see clearly how things around us change and evolve. When we become more mindful of the world around us, we’re able to develop a sense of gratitude and awareness for how and where we fit in. You can practice this by simply setting the intention to notice the world around you when you’re out. Even a few minutes can bring a sense of presence and focus to an ordinary day running errands.
Practice asking the question – What do I not know here? Expat life comes with a high degree of uncertainty. Observing how you feel, what you think and what you instinctively do in times of ambiguity enables you to gain comfort with being between places and helps you recognize what skills most help you to thrive even when things are up in the air.
Name your emotions.
Mindfulness enables us to tend to the wounds (and gifts) of the heart. If your child scrapes her knee, you teach her to clean the wound, bandage it and nurture it to wellness. The same is true for our emotions – and man are there a lot in this lifestyle! When we practice naming our emotions and tending to them, we gain the skills necessary to nurture, comfort, and celebrate the many ways we feel.
Set your intentions.
Mindfulness is about moving from mindless to mindful, but it’s not simply about an internal journey. When we want to live more mindfully in the world, we can bring that way of being into our lives by consciously setting our intentions on a regular basis. Set aside time in your schedule and mark a place on your calendar where you can create goals and priorities that align with your values. Then check in regularly to re-evaluate and re-align as needed.
Bring mindfulness to simple daily tasks.
Practice paying attention while you brush your teeth, dry your hair, wash your hands, or chew your food. Even just for one minute, you can observe the sensations of these every day tasks. You don’t even have to alter your routine. That means even when you’re on the go, between homes or just-off-the-plane, you can still maintain your practice.
Pause to consider your words.
Being authentic and honest doesn’t mean being careless with our words. Taking a mindful approach to the way we speak enables us to consider the nuance of what we want to say – especially in socially difficult or culturally complex situations. If you’re about to say something important, notice what happens if you simply count to 5 before speaking.
Take a moment on social media.
Practice #9 applies to your fingertips as well as your mouth. Try typing out your response and then counting to 10 before you hit “post.” Are your words aligned with your values? How do you feel about your contribution to the conversation? What happens when you take a moment to notice the emotions and physical sensations behind what you’re about to type?
Engage with compassion.
Practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. When we cultivate a mindful, compassionate perspective, we see others and ourselves in our true complexity. We raise our awareness of the inherent vulnerability we all face each day – no matter where we come from. When you find your automatic response is to criticize, judge or disregard (again – yourself and others!) pause for a moment to turn towards what’s happening and offer empathy, compassion (or self-compassion) and comfort.
Curiosity may very well be what got you into this expat life in the first place! Globally mobile people are so good at this. Keep it up! Mindfulness is about asking again and again, “What’s here now?” You can engage your curiosity more formally by creating reminders to stop periodically throughout the day and simply check in with what you’re thinking and feeling and with how you’re engaging with others and the world around you.
Practice saying, “This belongs.”
I absolutely love this line offered in a lesson from mindfulness teacher Tara Brach. Mindfulness is not about feeling happy all the time. It’s not about living a life free from pain, discomfort or uncertainty. We can, however, choose to see clearly what’s there. It is from that place – where we acknowledge that something “is” and must therefore, to some extent, “belong” – that we can begin to heal, to move through and to grow. This is essential to a life lived around the world.
A few reminders before you start…
As you read through these practices, remember that mindfulness is a practice that you build little by little, becoming more comfortable with each passing day as you try new things. Not unlike training for a sporting event, it’s important to start simple and grow your practice as you become more adept. Just as beginning marathon training with 20 kilometers if you’ve never even run two would be fool-hearty, starting a mindfulness practice with an hour of silent, seated mindfulness meditation is unlikely to be as effective as starting wherever you’re most comfortable and growing your practice from there.
Another important key is to remember the word practice. Mindfulness is not about arriving at a destination of “most mindful.” It is about coming back each day again and again until you find what’s right for you. I am 100% certain you can wake up January 1 to see clearly what lies ahead.
What practice will you start with? How will you grow towards a more mindful 2019? Share your mindfulness goals for the year ahead in the comments.
Author: Jodi Harris
Originally from Austin, Texas, Jodi has lived in Spain, Northern Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Japan (her current home). She is raising three TCKs in loving, if not occasionally chaotic partnership with her husband, a US Diplomat. She is a trained clinical social worker, teacher, life coach, writer, T1D mom and the owner of World Tree Coaching – Life Coaching for Expats. She specializes in reminding expats how capable and amazing they really are and supports people in finding a sense of home no matter where they go.