Living in Hong Kong, we become proud of being fast-paced, multi-tasking, citizens of the world. But do you ever stop and take time to actually absorb what is going on, notice the daily interactions occurring around you and enjoy the smells, sounds and sights that make this city so unique? Me neither!
I often find myself trying to juggle so many things at once that I never give anything my full attention. I check my emails on the MTR, catch up on Facebook whilst eating breakfast and even have the occasional dalliance with my mobile during actual face-to-face interactions… which is why the current media hype around mindfulness has caught my attention. There are a lot of sites going into more detail about what mindfulness is, but here are the basics:
• Don’t multi-task – always do one thing at a time and focus on the task at hand. So if you’re walking down the street, focus purely on that, absorb your surroundings and enjoy observing.
• Give whatever you are doing your full attention. So that means, if I’m writing a review, I shouldn’t stop to check my emails. If I’m catching up with someone on Skype, I shouldn’t Google a recipe for dinner. When I’m working out, I should definitely not be planning what I’m having for lunch!
• Eat mindfully – I’m a terrible grazer and comfort eater (the perils of working from home) and often eat standing up in front of the fridge, seeking solace in stodgy carb-loaded foods. What I should be doing is sitting down for meals, eating slowly and appreciating the textures and tastes in every bite. Apparently, I should also be putting down my cutlery between bites and paying attention to when I feel full, rather than greedily scoffing entire portions.
• Enjoy time spent doing nothing. In Hong Kong, we seem to have an addiction to filling our diaries; even when I’m at home sitting on the sofa, I feel the need to be reading, watching TV or something… I actually need to learn to just sit!
• Be aware of your surroundings – I think this will come hand-in-hand with points one and two. When watching a glorious sunset, I’m quite good at being 100% present in the moment but I should learn to do this in more mundane everyday surroundings!
So I set myself the task – five days of living and eating mindfully in Hong Kong. Here’s my day-by-day diary of whether this was even possible in a city as manic as this, and whether it enhanced my life…
Even whilst researching this living mindfully malarkey, I’m already tempted in so many forbidden ways. Surely I should be munching on some snacks whilst researching?! My eye roves towards my Inbox in the middle of reading an article, whilst Facebook keeps tempting me to check for multiple updates. I have to try extremely hard to make a really conscious effort to be mindful… Am I hungry? No, so no snacks for me. Facebook is closed from my browser; instead, I’ll check it later. My attention starts to deviate towards buying a birthday present for a friend, but no, I must finish and focus on the task at hand before moving onto next one. This is going to be tougher than I thought!
However, as I force myself to think mindfully, the day turns out to be filled with a general contentedness. Battling my way through Wan Chai, I notice small interactions between wrinkled old men and playful children that are much more meaningful than checking my emails. I allocate time to check and reply to emails and close my Outlook in the interim, whilst Facebook checking also becomes less frequent. A challenge comes in the form of a night out for a birthday. Despite a magnificent view from OZONE and a great group of friends, I do find myself checking emails. I force myself to actively engage in conversation and when it lulls, I watch the glorious sunset instead. I go to bed feeling like a much better, more wholesome person.
Much harder today – feeling slightly stressed and under the weather means eating mindfully does not happen! I had no appetite but still scoffed lots of chocolate and porridge, keeping going until just before bed. I think eating mindfully will be my biggest challenge!
I’m doing better when it comes to work. I make a conscious effort upon waking to turn my iPhone alarm off without checking my emails; they can wait. This allows me to wake far more naturally and without feeling the weight of work on me first thing in the morning! Segmenting my work time allows for more enjoyment in each task and actually frees up time for an amble around Happy Valley, absorbing my surroundings and allowing them to contextualize all my inane daily stresses.
I am determined to correct yesterday’s deviances. Yesterday, I cheekily kept sitting down to eat the food I didn’t really need, as if that made it mindful – it’s amazing how sneaky women’s brains can be! So today I ate breakfast slowly, sitting and enjoying every bite. When tempted to get seconds, I forced myself to think whether I actually needed them or whether it was just gluttony. The answer was obvious! The day proceeds well and I’m finding happiness in smaller moments; whilst still deviating frequently (mainly caused by iPhone distractions), I’m starting to get the hang of this mindfulness thing!
Ah, a weekend in all its glorious distractions! Big fail on some levels, developments on others. I spent a lovely day at the Grand Hyatt swimming pool, enjoying the moment and letting my happiness sink in. Then it was onto a girls’ night in with wine and Thai takeaway. I tried to be mindful in appreciating the evening and being surrounded by friends, but put six women in a room together and by nature, conversations flit, iPhones get thrust out and minds inevitably wander. Maybe mindfulness in Hong Kong has to mean embracing the multi-tasking nature of some situations?
I justify that living mindfully stretches to breakfast in bed reading the newspaper. OK, I’m multi-tasking, but this simple Sunday morning routine brings me such happiness… and surely it’s mindful of me to notice?! I am naturally checking Facebook and emails less often, and actually paying attention to my surroundings when wandering the streets, abandoning my old irritating iPhone walk. When something urgent needs replying to, I stop, find a quiet corner and reply before carrying on. I resist checking my phone whilst watching a movie and engage more deeply in conversations – especially on Skype with my family! The only downside I have noticed is that I keep running late (by trying not to multi-task, I’m running behind), which is probably why all advice on mindfulness says to schedule time between things!
My transition to being more mindful isn’t going to be a simple shift, especially in a city as hectic as Hong Kong; it will take time and I think I’m going to have to constantly prompt myself since, if you’re surrounded by people not acting mindfully, temptation will always be there. But I do think it’s worth the effort – imagine if all of us did it, how much more productive and engaged all of Hong Kong would be!