What Is Urban Mindfulness?

Since embarking on our own mindfulness journeys, the benefits of a sustained mindfulness practice in the City have become very clear. Mindfulness has slowly but steadily widened our prospective and perceptions to include the wonders of urban living. Making city life much more tolerable and even beautiful!

At first glance, the City seems deprived of natural beauty, almost suffocating and frantically paced with its 24 hour amenities and constant calls to action. However, if we work with these distractions and perceived difficulties skillfully (by using them as triggers to practice mindfulness). From our own personal experience, City life can be transformed. Transformed through seeing more clearly the reality that nature is all around us even in the midst of it all.

With this new found prospective. It appears possible to find inner peace in the midst of the hustle and bustle. Through development of a few techniques, and the cultivation of the right attitude of heart that mindfulness invites. It’s considered possible to see that as the book of Mark Williams describes, “Peace in a Frantic World” is possible!

To us, Urban Mindfulness is the flourishing of mindfulness practice in heavily urbanised locations. It warrants we embrace our beautifully diverse social, cultural, ethnic, and religious differences to remove any blockages that prevent us from connecting with our common humanity and the nature that is all around us.

Urban mindfulness requires we engage with the unique opportunities the city offers to inter-connect with everyone and everything.

It also requires we embrace the challenge that city life presents with all its perceived inequalities and division so we may come to better understand it and perhaps how we may even contribute to it.

 Urban Mindfulness then requires we use this understanding to cultivate mindful compassion that crosses the perceived boundaries that block our human inter-connection and true compassionate nature that desires harmonious integration, acceptance and peace in the midst of it all.

Blessed With an Urban Practice

In London we are blessed with an infinite number of experiences that can be regular triggers to practice mindfulness. We can use the regular calls to action including advertising, marketing and the cities hustle and bustle as “triggers” that remind us to embody mindfulness in the midst of it all, moment by moment and breath by breath.

Practising Mindfulness In the City

What seems to be constant hustle and bustle, or bombardment of advertising and enticing things to do in the city, can serve us as wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness.

If we can come to observe the thoughts, feelings and emotional responses of aversion, attachment and indifference to our experiences of city life, and allow ourselves to become curious about how the mind and body respond to the the cities constant calls to action. We can perhaps learn in a very short period of time, a great deal about both ourselves and others.

We also feel the city can quickly teach us how to connect with what it is to be part of life in any given moment without grasping or aversion. The city can be an amazing place to practice if we are able remember to experience it mindfully.

However, an issue with city living is that we often have many habitual ways of going about our daily life that mean large parts of our experience is lost to the auto-pilot. Interestingly, with mindfulness training, we can challenge the auto pilot and become interested in observing how the body and mind responds to city life in a way that can completely transform our experience of it.

Triggers to Practice Mindful Compassion In the City

We can use the common sounds of sirens, flashing lights, aircraft and car horns. The traffic, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, junctions and even common or particular retail units that we notice or that call for our attention in any given moment as a call to practice.

We describe this practice as “trigger happy practice.”

Aware of any jolting sounds or sights that we experience in the city, we can come back to our full sensory experience including the body, our breathing and thoughts to invite mindful awareness.

We can use these triggers as a call to action. A call to connect with our bodies and the full sensory experience of being alive in that moment. We can then offer what is needed including self compassion and compassion for others or we can connect with a sense of gratitude for our awareness in the present moment in a way that can totally transforms our perception or experience of the trigger itself. This is particularly useful if we have a traumatic relationship with common urban experiences.

Sensory overload or Coming to our Senses?

As Jon Kabat Zinn describes, mindfulness is about coming to our senses. Fortunately, the city invites us to become aware of our senses almost constantly. We can walk a single street and be acutely aware of our senses and whether we see it as sensory overload or the opportunity to come back to our senses seems to be a matter of perception.

If we invite a kind curiosity to our experience, we suggest that we can exercise the power of our senses in the city and learn new ways of responding to our experiences and ultimately life itself.

For example, it appears amazing how the experience of fast flowing traffic on a raining day can almost sound and feel very similar in the body to waves coming in and out on a beach! Can you connect with the reality of nature that is both?

In the City we feel the experiences are actually infinite, but first, we need to get out of our minds and into our bodies.

Transport Practice

We can also practice what we call “transport practice” when moving around the city on public transport. By bringing our attention to our body and mind, we can notice sensations of being moved from one place to another.

The key to “transport Practice” is to soften into the moment and become interested in the direct experience of the mode of transport we are using and how this effects the body and the mind. How different is the car, to a bus, to a train on a physical level and what are the different thoughts or emotions? Can we meet whatever is there with kind curiosity?

Aware of our feet grounded on the floor of the object that is transporting us. Sensing the bodies response to where we are sitting or standing and people or objects around us, we can become aware of our breathing body that is being transported often at incredible speeds almost effortlessly. How does this really feel? Can we connect with any gratitude or wonder in this modern ability?

Is it possible to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the ability to move for miles in a matter of minutes?

Taking in the sights, smells, sounds, people and movement both on a gross and evermore subtle physiological level we literally feel our journey’s become endlessly interesting in a way that can dissolve the mental stress that can be habitually hooked into it.

Recognising the Beauty in the built Environment

At the Urban Mindfulness Foundation, we also make a point to engage with the beauty of the built environment. The abundance and mixture of masterful architecture represents a manifestation of human nature that cannot be denied in a city.

Wonderful architecture conceived in the human mind is as amazing as a lotus flower. We are like a colony of master builders that are able to reach infinite heights. Just look at buildings like the Shard, Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater or Gherkin that will not fail to stimulate a response.

There are now even some fantastic roof gardens that feel like they are floating in the sky. They offer excellent places for practice and evoke a sense of being on top of a built mounting! and wow, the views and sensations can be truly breath taking.

Nevertheless, amidst all of this development, we can also see many areas of natural ancient beauty. With untouched trees reminding us that there is a whole other world waiting to return at the earliest possible convenience.

This reality has compelled us to share our Urban Mindfulness Foundation poem called:

Can you see the natural landscape peeping through the seams of tarmac?

There is something quite magical about the need to stop, listen and look deeply, to see the city breathing,

As we do this, we notice that below this urban sprawl, with all its buildings and miles and miles of tarmac,

Sits earths’ natural and beautiful landscape that calmly waits for a return,

From time to time it peeps through the seams of tarmac to see what is occurring,

and whether there is anything above the streets, the is uncontrollable alluring,

By simply stopping to notice this way, we see that mother earth is always there,

ready and waiting to reclaim the streets and return the land to its natural glory,

But for now, we can also enjoy the natural intervention of another wonder of life,

the wonder of life we call the human,

So there is no need to despair, this urban landscape will repair,

Just accept that it’s a moment in time, and once we are gone,

and taken our fair share,

transformation will again occur,

by reflecting on our Urban Environment this way,

Maybe we can open up to the understanding,

One earth, One beauty, One nation, One people,

One existence.

Dean Francis, Urban Mindfulness Foundation