We see cities as bustling, noisy and harsh urban environments. But, believe it or not, it is possible to be mindful in even the most chaotic metropolis. Of course, some cities lend themselves to mindfulness better than others, but peace and awareness can be found in any place regardless of its commitment to advocating an atmosphere of peace, reflection and compassion.
“Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” ~ Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make
Cities are in fact some of the best places to be mindful, because there is so much to notice; so many faces, countless stories, beautiful collisions of design an architecture and a sea of faces both strange and familiar. If you have ever fallen in love with a city, as I have, then you will know that this cannot happen without engaging with the environment. Despite the city belonging to everyone yet no one, we can still feel that it belongs to us as it welcomes us in like an old friend. In fact, I sometimes feel calmer and more at home in some of the grottiest corners of Manchester than I would in a field of wheat on a balmy day!
Mindfulness is all about awareness and acceptance. This can absolutely happen in any city if we shed the preconceptions we have about their hard and chaotic aesthetics. However, the if the way a city is managed and constructed is designed with compassion towards the wellbeing of its inhabitants, then being mindful does become that little bite easier.
What Makes A Mindful City?
What indeed? It is a combination of design, management and the attitude of its people. There are many that suggest that a city cannot be designed in a mindful way at all, but this is not strictly true. In order for the people of a city to adopt a mindful attitude, to be inspired by the place itself to invite mindfulness into their lives, opportunity and encouragement must be fostered. As stated before, mindfulness can be found anywhere in the world, and if you are already a disciple of mindful living this is no problem. However, if there is no conscious effort to inspire mindfulness, then nobody new will come into the fold, and a collective atmosphere of wellbeing and mindful living will not emerge from a population. So, how can this be done?
The City Itself
There are many cities around the world that are revered for their mindful approach. Cities such as Vancouver (Canada), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Malmö (Sweden) and Reykjavik (Iceland) are considered to be among the happiest in the world. This is calculated by considering their commitment to social and environmental responsibility and carefully managed attitudes towards work/life balance. Their social tolerance, healthcare systems, life expectancy rates, ecological endeavours and income levels make them home to some of the happiest inhabitants on the planet.
This might make it seem like it is too late for the rest of us, as many of these things take years of planning and structure. But its not too late. Some cities in the world are beginning to take small steps towards fostering mindfulness and a healthier way of life. For example, it has become a Scandinavian habit to begin constructing and designating specific inner-city areas for meditation and mindfulness; places of silence and serenity – walled gardens for example. This can also be found over here. London, for example, although they are not specifically designed for mindfulness, has many wide-open spaces and protected gardens in which you can easily find a moments peace.
Your Own Behaviour
If the city is getting the better of you, there are a few simple ways in which you can start to use it as an opportunity for mindfulness.
Slow it Down
Cities tend to insist a kind of ‘frenzy’ upon us. The pace of the place makes you walk faster, work harder, worry more easily, move more quickly towards frustration. The first step of finding a mindful place in all of this is to simply notice when you are doing these things. Question yourself. Do you really need to be in a rush? Does it really matter that the person in front of you is walking slower than you are? Will getting stressed about this work situation actually effect the timing and quality of its outcome? You may find, more often than not, that the answer is ‘no’. If you can spare the time to slow down, then do it!
Awareness is a key part of the mindful mindset. Take in the city as you move through it, notice the differences from day today, as well as those things that remain consistent and on schedule (whether accidental or not!)
No Comments, No Judgements
It is so easy to overreact to little injustices in city life. Try not to do this. Very often, these little things make absolutely no difference to you whatsoever. So, do not rile yourself up and waste your energy on them: just let things be. Notice but do not judge.
By Chris Thomson
Adopting a mindful approach to life takes a little practice and commitment. What helps is to first understand how mindfulness works in conjunction with your brain! Your Brain On Mindfulness
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