Re-Learning the Lesson of Perspective

De-stress

by Brenton Russell on

Today I re-learnt one of my most important life lessons: the best way to de-stress and positively alter your perception is to participate in an activity that effectively keeps you entirely in the present moment. Being in the present moment means operating in a state of ‘mindfulness’ and experience things without judgement or distractions.

Not Entirely Sure What Mindfulness is?

Mindfulness is a key concept of Buddism and meditation and is increasingly being employing in Western psychology for the treatment of a variety of mental conditions and disorders.  I recently came across this useful article, “What is Mindfulness?” which gives a good outline of the concept of mindfulness.  A great quote in this article comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s following definition of mindfulness:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose,
in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.”

A lot of literature and references talk about mindfulness in a meditative context and as a long term philosophy for life.  I think mindfulness as a spiritual philosophy is an excellent aspiration, but probably a topic for another post (or posts!).  What this post focuses on are my experiences achieving mindfulness by participating in worthwhile activities in the interest of diffusing stress and positively shifting your immediate perspective.

How This Works for Me

Having had a very high tempo and often stressful job for the last 13 or so years, I have found that it is critical to periodically release the pressure to ensure my continued wellbeing.  The best way that I have found to achieve this is to participate in activities that absorb my entire attention which don’t allow me the option of thinking about the day-to-day stressors.  The beauty is that after this experience, all the things that seemed so critical and stressful no longer seem that important.  So what are the things that work for me?  I love the ocean and water sports.  Having lived on various parts of Australia’s coast for most of my adult life, I have found that being in the ocean and appreciating the aquatic world focuses all my attention on what’s around me and doesn’t give me the chance to focus on anything other than the present moment.  In particular, the pursuits that create this mindfulness and perspective-shifting experiences for me include:

  • Surfing
  • Spearfishing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Free Diving

Re-Learning the Lesson

Today I re-learnt this key lesson.  This year has been an incredibly high tempo and stressful year on the back of another incredibly high tempo and stressful year last year.  Although I am reluctant to admit it, my stress levels have been pushing up the scales and my sense of wellbeing has been in a flat spin and heading out to sea.  Last Friday my Boss sent me on some enforced leave to get my holiday leave balance down to a manageable level.  Leave at the moment means that instead of heading in to the office every day, I do exactly what I would normally do but just do it from home!  With the first three days of my ‘leave’ seeing me work full days at home and experiencing all the usual work stressors, on the fourth day my family and my visiting sistor’s family headed over to a nearby tropical island to try to have a ‘real’ holiday.  On the first day, I tried to relax by reading a book and hanging around the pool but in reality my mind kept wondering back to the ongoing work issues.  Not a great way to recharge your batteries!

Great Barrier ReefOn the second day, we decided to head off to a secluded bay and spend the day on the beach.  I took my freediving gear and endeavoured to spend the day diving over the coral reefs that lined the bay.  The first thing that I did when we got to the bay was put on my diving equipment and head straight out into the water to check the visibility.  Not great but workable!  I swam back and took my sister out to the best bits of coral.  After she had enough, I swam back and took out my wife and my two year old daughter for her first snorkling attempt.  She loved it!  Once they had enough I took them back in and my wife and I took out my four year old son.  He loved looking at the fish and coral too!  After taking them back in I thought that I would go out one last time for my own exploration.  Coming back in I checked my watch and noticed that hours had passed without even a thought of the outstanding work that still awaited me.  What’s more, the outstanding work that seemed so critical the day before didn’t really seem that important or worrisome.  Why?  I had just spend the preceding hours totally engrossed in a worthwhile activity that had consumed my complete attention and allowed me to live entirely in the present moment.

What’s Your Mindful Activity?

Being able to participate in an activity that I genuinely enjoy and that focussed my entire attention on the present moment greatly increased my sense of wellbeing and positively affected my life perspective.  For me its water sports but for others it might be artistic endeavors, bushwalking, gardening etc.  The trick is to find the activity or pursuit that you genuinely enjoy that naturally focusses you to live life in the present moment and experience the mindfulness that makes the seemingly important stressors of life seem not so significant.

I have written this post to ensure that I don’t lose this lesson on maintaining my perspective, but equally I would love to hear the things that you find allow you to create a gap in your thinking and shift your perspective to re-focus on the simple and important things in life!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzie July 4, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I love yoga for this – one of the best things I do at the moment is my weekly yoga class, which is 90 minutes of total focus. It really de-stresses me.

I love the ocean too, but I live smack-bang in the middle of the UK, so it’s a long drive to get there… but I must do it at some point this summer!

Reply

Brenton Russell July 4, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Hi Suzie,

I started doing some yoga last year and loved it. Regrettably I have let it slide but it is definitely something that I want to get back into as it certainly fits the bill as an activity that requires your complete attention! I hope you get the chance to hit the beach soon. It works wonders for me!

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Tony July 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I love diving too, but not in the UK – I have to go to South East Asia to get my diving kick :)

Running helps, so does cycling, reading, and just hanging out with friends and family.

I *never* have any trouble switching off from work though :)

Reply

Brenton Russell July 6, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Hi Tony,

I am spoilt rotten to live on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia so there is plenty of great diving on my doorstep! Unfortunately I am not as good at switching off from work and every now and again I need to remind myself to re-invest back into my own wellbeing.

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Tony July 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Brenton, you are very lucky! And if I lived on the Great Barrier Reef I would never get *any* work done! 😉

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Bek July 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Hey Brenton,

Loved the article – I totally agree with you about the benefits or almost meditative state of being in or on the ocean. When you think about the fact that 80% of our bodies are made up of water it makes sense that being in water is so thereputic. I always think about babies and how most of the time really small babies will always calm down in a comforting, warm bath. When my toddler isdriving me crazy popping her in the bath with some toys gives us both a break and chance to wind down. I love surfing, while i am not particularly good at it – the amount of concentration it takes to catch a wave leave no room for anything else in your brain! So thanks for the reminder :)

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