Why Are We Going So Crazy About Mindfulness?

Why has mindfulness become so popular in recent years?     helicopter view

There are mindfulness practices popping up in every area imaginable – mindfulness meditation, mindful eating, mindful listening, mindful therapies, mindfulness at work and so on. More than 10 years ago there were estimates that were more than 240 hospitals, clinics and other health-related settings worldwide were offering clinical interventions based on mindfulness training (Santorelli, 2001; Krasner, 2004). I dare to say this number could now represent the numbers in one country alone!

Hopefully the mindfulness concept spreads into other areas of life too. I look forward to the day when there is mindfulness introduced into pubs and bars so people pay more attention to their bodies when ingesting harmful substances. Maybe this would prevent them from drinking or smoking so much! It may prevent hangovers and better still serious illness.

No – This is not such a novel concept! Isn’t that what wine tasting is all about – tasting the delicate flavours in each and every mouthful?

Does mindfulness deserve all the attention it’s getting?

To answer these questions, in the next few weeks, I am going to look at what mindfulness is to those who have described it in the literature, outline the benefits of mindfulness according to scientists, and then simplify mindfulness for everyday. I will also look at what each of us can do to be more mindful in each and every moment (or at least for five minutes a day!).

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply awareness of what is taking place in the present moment (Brown & Ryan, 2003). This awareness applies to events taking place in the body, mind, and external environment. Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).

It is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state where individuals observe their thoughts and feelings as they arise, without trying to change them or push them away, and without letting them take over (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999; Martin, 1997; Teasdale, Segal, Williams, Ridgeway, Soulsby & Lau, 2000).

Some describe mindfulness as a meta-view or a helicopter (or aeroplane!) view of ourselves, others, and our environment. It is seeing things from above – for example watching a conversation unfold between ourselves and another – perceiving the emotions in our self and the other, listening to each of our words, noting what we are both saying and not saying.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Scientists have become increasingly interested in mindfulness in recent years. They have found that mindfulness is associated with many benefits.

Mindfulness has been associated with increases in compassion (Tirsch, 2010), empathy (Tipsord, 2010), positive affect (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkrantz, Muller, Santorelli et al., 2003), well-being and relaxation (Kelly, 1996), overall quality of life (Carlson, Speca, Pattel & Goodey, 2003), attention (Chambers, Chuen Yee Lo & Allen, 2008), awareness of beliefs and emotions, self-regulation, self-exploration, self-actualisation, self-responsibility and self-directedness (Kelly, 1996), relationship satisfaction (Hodgins & Knee, 2002), increases in working memory (Jha & Stanley, 2010) and productivity in business (Orme-Johnson, 2000).

Mindfulness has also been associated with decreases in negative affect (Ekblad, 2010), depression (Mason & Hargreaves, 2001; Teasdale et al., 2000), anxiety (Goleman & Schwartz, 1976; Lehrer, Schoicket, Carrington & Woolfolk, 1980; Kelly, 1996; Ramel, Goldin, Carmona & McQuaid, 2004), and stress (Reibel, Greeson, Brainard, George & Rosenzweig, 2001; Shapiro, Bootzin, Figueredo, Lopez & Schwartz, 2003), decreases in repetitive self-defeating patterns of behaviour and thinking (Carpenter, 1977), decreases in pain (Kelly, 1996) and reductions in anger (Dua & Swinden, 1992).

Mindfulness has also been associated with many physical health benefits such as increased cardiac output, slowed heart rate, decreased blood pressure and increased longevity (Orme-Johnson, 2000), increased immune function (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, Schumacher, Rosenkrantz, Muller, Santorelli et al., 2003) and improved quality of sleep (Shapiro, Bootzin, Figueredo, Lopez & Schwartz, 2003).

The benefits of mindfulness are wide, diverse, and clear.

Note that much of this research is conducted on people who are regularly practicing mindfulness over a period of time – months or years.

Also note that from a scientific perspective there have also been some studies that have indicated mindfulness may be unhelpful or less effective in some contexts and caution has been expressed that it cannot be applied as a generic technique (Teasdale, 2010; Carmody, Baer, Lykins & Olendzki, 2009). This however, is beyond the scope of this article.

Research is great – but – what about real-life?

What is important is not so much what the research says – it is great – but – are you going to take up meditating one hour a day?

Great if you are. It is highly recommended – there are numerous benefits.

And what if you’re not? Or if you’re only going to mediate twenty minutes a day?

Well every little bit counts. And it is more about what you do as a result of the meditation or mindfulness practice than the actual practice itself. Mindfulness meditation practice opens you up to enjoy richer experiences throughout the day. An alternative to throwing yourself into meditation is starting small and training yourself to enjoy richer moments throughout the day. Even seconds are better than nothing!

Mindfulness is simple!

Mindfulness is not a concept that is complex, unattainable, or even requires a great deal of practice. All mindfulness is – is waking up to life. Being here right now. Or as Thich Nhat Hanh would say – turning up for our appointment with life (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2010). It is actually being aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking, and doing without believing that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours are us.

We can observe them, sure. And they are an important part of the person we call “I”, or “me”. They are not, however, all of us (or all of “me” or “I”).

We are so much more than our fears, even than our hopes, or our dreams. For despite our fears, our hopes, and our dreams we are alive, living in this moment.  Our fears, hopes and dreams change over time, we, however, always remain. (At least until we pass!).

Mindfulness simplified

So what does all this actually mean?

Let’s simply mindfulness.

Mindfulness is observing without evaluating. Sensing without Judging. Feeling without emoting. Thinking without rationalising. More simply, it is us baring witness to ourselves… And baring witness to others and our environment. Actually seeing, not just looking. Actually listening, not just hearing.

What does baring witness mean?

Baring witness is witnessing or observing ourselves. As if we are a friend -watching our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Noticing our tone of voice, our heart rate, and our fears or joys arising.  Further and importantly it is not judging ourselves for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Mindfulness the Infinite

Mindfulness is not new. It is, and always has been, a part of human existence from the dawn of time.  We choose whether we access it or not.

Buddhists have focused on developing this skill for centuries. Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi and other spiritually-based practices encourage us to be more mindful. They are all really designed to access what is ever present if we just take the time to notice what is happening right now.

Be mindful now!

What is happening for you? For others around you? In your environment right now?

Is there someone talking beside you at work? Can you hear the birds singing? Is the TV on at home? Can you smell food being cooked in the kitchen? Can you smell the body odour of someone sitting near you on the bus? Can you feel the cool night air of winter? Can you hear the breath of your sleeping child on your chest as you read your emails? Can you see the moon breaking through the trees? Can you taste the sugar in your food? Are you tired, hungry, or angry? Happy, content, or joyful?

These next few weeks of articles will explore how to enjoy mindfulness on a time budget. They will also look at what mindfulness can do for you in each moment you are mindful!

Comments

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