Living in the moment
Observatory’s Jenny Canau is balm for the soul. She teaches mindfulness and is currently a director of Mindfulness Africa, an initiative that runs mindfulness training across the country. By Joy Watson.
When in the presence of Jenny Canau one is immediately aware how ‘cluttered’ our minds become and how far we sometimes stray from being fully present in any given moment. She has a soothing, radiant presence and is beautiful, both physically and in spirit.
Jenny is one of a few people who can carry off bold geometric designs, floral-wear and all things alternative. Yet her best feature is her sense of being passionate about being alive. When in her company it is very difficult not to be enthused by her energy and zest for life. She has an infectious, roaring laugh and brings her special, magical sense of being into every space she enters, with many hugs and kisses to go around.
Jenny’s journey with mindfulness started in 1997. “I started practising mindfulness meditation with Rob Nairn who initiated the Mindfulness Association in both Scotland and South Africa and it has since become a way of life.”
Jenny tells me about her great loves. “I am passionate about children!” She has three gorgeous kids of her own who attend the Michael Oak Waldorf School in Kenilworth and this is where she is often to be found communing with her children’s friends, making them laugh and generally causing mayhem on the school grass with her from-the-belly laugh. “I currently facilitate mindfulness parenting courses as well as mindfulness sessions with children. It’s part of what I really enjoy doing. When you enjoy what you do it makes your life that much more authentic.”
She gets very excited in telling me about mindfulness. She sees it as being “an inherent human quality that we all possess. It is about being in tune with what is happening in the moment.” Jenny explains that what is critical about mindfulness is that “it affords us the opportunity of becoming aware of our inner thoughts and emotions as well as of the environment around us. It is ultimately about contentment of being”.
“For most people, our dominant experience is that of having a mind where we are constantly stuck in thoughts and emotions of the past and future. This takes away from our immediate experience, making us feel lost, overwhelmed and out of sync with what is happening within and around us.”
When I did a mindfulness course with Jenny, I remember having an “Aha” moment. I saw that I was spending too much time in my past, visiting past memories that were hurtful for me. When my mind was not dwelling in the past, it was skipping ahead to the future and would conjure up all sorts of horrific scenarios in which I was not coping emotionally or financially. Yet, when I stayed in the present moment where I sat cross-legged, looking out on a beautiful garden with the sun shining down on me, the moment devoid of the pain of the past and the worries about the future, I realised that all was well in my world.
Mindfulness has far-reaching benefits for our health and well-being if incorporated into our lives on a daily basis. There is now scientific evidence to show that mindfulness is beneficial for us and is increasingly being taught in universities, schools, hospitals, and health-related institutions across the globe. Jenny emphasises that “if we spend just a few minutes every day practising mindfulness in the same way that we engage with keeping our teeth healthy, we would ultimately become mentally healthier and far happier in the long term.” Yet, mindfulness will only make a qualitative difference to your life if you practice and experience it on a daily basis to become “mentally fit”. One of the invaluable techniques associated with mindfulness is the “body scan”. This entails momentarily “scanning” the body every day. One way of doing this is to start with the feet and to gradually move up the rest of the body. At each point, you take stock of how that part of your body is feeling, drawing awareness to physical sensations or residual feelings that you are not quite aware of in your conscious mind. The scan, as with the practice of mindfulness, makes us alert and awake to what is going on inside of us. According to Jenny, “the more you do it, the more you are able to see what is going on in both inwardly and outwardly.” What then becomes the question is – “how do you sit with what’s there?” Mindfulness is therefore about being aware of what is going on inside of us and accepting this for what it is.As humans, we have the tendency to want to grasp and hold on to good experiences. Our attitude is generally that of “give me more pleasure, I can do pleasure!” Conversely, we have an aversion to what is painful and tend to want to push away the sensation of pain and suffering. “We have generally not been taught to deal with difficulty and therefore tend to escape, deny, suppress and avert difficulties. We have not quite been prepared for dealing with situations such as that of dealing with the loss of everything that we love.”
Jenny believes this is where mindfulness becomes very useful. It teaches that life is bittersweet and nothing is permanent. There will always be different moments, comprising both joy and pain and we need to learn how to be present in these moments.
It teaches us to allow whatever difficulty is present and to become stable with it. “Eventually we begin to realise that whatever difficulty it is that we are facing, no matter how excruciating the pain, it will arise, show itself and eventually dissipate.”
Jenny tries to incorporate mindfulness into her daily routine at around midday when her toddler takes his nap. “I then get to practise being mindful for about an hour. This is my process for opening my heart to what is going on in my mind. It helps me take care of myself in a deeper and more meaningful way. It also means that I take heartfelt responsibility for my thoughts, emotions and behaviour.”
Training in mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular as many people struggle to find meaning and ways of being in an increasingly difficult world. Jenny is a lawyer by profession. She has recently been approached to start a mindfulness course for lawyers as part of a new initiative by the Centre for Integrative Law, testimony to how mindfulness can enhance any profession and every aspect of our lives.
Ultimately, being mindful is about being awake and alive within your skin. So if you have been suffering from moments where your mind has been “full”, where you feel the fatigue associated with the stresses of juggling far too many thoughts that threaten to implode, it’s time that you consider training in mindfulness! It could well change your life.
Jenny can be contacted on 084-627-4847 or visit www.mindfulnessafrica.org.za
Penny for your thoughts
What are you most passionate about? Benefitting the lives of others. What gives you joy? Connecting to others.What most disturbs you? Being alienated from others.
What can you not do without? Bright clothes. How do you to unwind? Bathing in hot water. What is your favourite food? Anything with lots of chilli! What is your favourite book? Siddharta by Hermann Hesse.