“In order to be utterly happy the only thing necessary is to refrain from comparing this moment with other moments in the past, which I often did not full enjoy because I was comparing them with the other moments of the future.” – Andre Gide
Mindfulness is a buzzed about practice adopted by human resource departments, public health practitioners, school curriculumz, and modern therapists. But what is it? PositivePsychologyProgram.com defines mindfulness as an eclectic mix of Hindi and Buddhist traditions, as well as other world religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as yoga, and Western medicine. In mental health therapy it was a basis for the development of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
Simply put it is the habit of being in the present moment. Not dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. It’s unplugging from all our modern technology and distractions. It’s noticing what is around us, and taking it in with all our five senses. Amidst the pressures of our daily lives and commitments, it is a practice that anyone can find soothing, and practical. It is however a habit that needs to be practiced, and exercised on a regular basis to receive any meaningful benefit.
“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it.” – Horace Mann
In The Little Book of Mindfulness Dr. Patrizia Collard explains that some of the benefits of the practice include increased calm, relaxation, energy, enthusiasm, self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-compassion, and compassion for the planet and others. She says, “By reconnecting with simple moments in life, by truly living moment by moment, it is possible to rediscover a sense of peace and enjoyment. We may, at least sometimes, feel once again truly enchanted with life.”
Psychology Today writer David Rock explains that there are two major circuits in the brain: narrative and direct experience. Mindfulness involves focusing our attention on direct experience. He explains the difference between the two, “When the direct experience network is active, several different brain regions become more active. This includes the insula, a region that relates to perceiving bodily sensations. The anterior cingulate cortex is also activated, which is a region central to switching your attention. When this direct experience network is activated, you are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people, or yourself, or considering much at all. Rather, you are experiencing information coming into your senses in real time. Sitting on the jetty, your attention is on the warmth of the sun on your skin, the cool breeze in your hair, and the cold beer in your hand.” Whereas he explains that the narrative experience involves processing information and adding interpretation. It is important for goal setting, planning, and other important cognitive functions, but it takes us out of the moment, and sets our brain on a tangent of future activities and concerns.
“Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
While both processes are essential and necessary, focusing on the present moment can calm our narrative circuit, if we are stressed or anxious. It also helps us enjoy both the beauty of our surroundings, and keeps us alert to any dangers, we might not notice if we’re too distracted by our inner monologues.
Leading mindfulness researcher John Teasdale explained that mindfulness is a habit, and a skill. “It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.” Meditation is a way we can practice mindfulness daily.
On Psychology Today Dr. Lisa Firestone explains that mindfulness reduces cell damage which in turn increases our life span, and it also works to strengthen our immune system. She explains it can help us change destructive habits by pausing before we act. With a better understanding of how our minds work she believes we can label our thoughts and feelings so we have more control of our actions, instead of letting our emotions dictate our behavior. Dr. Firestone believes that, “It can bring us closer to the people we care about and help us to interrupt self-sabotaging patterns we’ve adopted throughout our lives. Teaching ourselves to calm down and to be more receptive than reactive is a practice made possible through mindfulness techniques.”
Mindfulness Meditation Exercises:
Eckhart Tolle, on his website describes the essence of meditation, “Use your senses fully. Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret. See the light, shapes, colors, textures. Be aware of the silent presence of each thing. Be aware of the space that allows everything to be. Listen to the sounds; don’t judge them. Listen to the silence underneath the sounds. Touch something – anything – and feel and acknowledge its Being.”
The Mayo Clinic recommends the exercise, Make the familiar new again. “Find a few small, familiar objects — such as a toothbrush, apple or cellphone — in your home or office. Look at the objects with fresh eyes. Identify one new detail about each object that you didn’t see before. As you become more aware of your world, you might become fonder of the things around you.”
Author Bio: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at splitsvilleblog.wordpress.com. She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun
- The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr. Patrizia Collard. Gaia Books, 2014
- Words from the Wise by Rosemarie Jarski. Skyhorse Publishing, 2007
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