I am at the early stages of teaching myself mindfulness, and am, so far, thoroughly enjoying its practice, the ideas and research findings associated with it, and the small incremental but appreciable benefits that I am already noticing and experiencing.
There is a plethora of materials available on this subject and its application, and mindfulness shows all the signs of having its moment of zeitgeist across an array of contexts and situations, from banks and city firms, to schools, Silicon Valley technology and new media companies, to new thinking powering into a contemporary women’s leadership movement, to health and community group contexts, to creativity, to psychology and therapy settings. In fact it might be harder at the moment to find a context in which mindfulness is not featuring or making a central contribution.
In my earlier post, Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance, I featured a number of articles that considered the merits and popularity of mindfulness for the benefits its practice can bring to our greater sense of – and actual physical, emotional, psychological, even neurological – balance.
In this post, I am concentrating more on the practical application of mindfulness.
But first here is what I hope is a helpful introduction to what mindfulness is and works as a practice, from Corey Jackson, an accredited CEB trainer, majoring in psychology and sanskrit at the University of Sydney and is the Tibetan interpreter at the Vajrayana Institute:
It seems meditation is the new black. So many articles about the benefits of meditation reach my inbox that I have trouble finding the time to read them all – even if I delete the ones about celebrities.
Public awareness and curiosity are increasing as the scientific and anecdotal evidence mounts. People are overcoming addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol, losing weight, reducing stress as well as increasing wealth, kindness and compassion. There are many accounts of improved athletic performance, people are overcoming severe anxiety and depression, heart disease and the list goes on…
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of meditation, designed to enhance different qualities and skills. When used together, their practice is like a balanced diet tailored to each of our personal needs.
The first of these forms of meditation is the one most researched and talked, known as mindfulness, which essentially involves strengthening our powers of concentration to overcome distractions and pay better attention. In mindfulness meditation, we try to keep an object (our breath for example) in the foreground of our attention and leave all the usual opinions, chatter and activity in the background. Over time, this ‘background noise’ subsides and we become better able to focus on any object we may choose for ever- longer periods of time.
It doesn’t take long before the benefits of these skills spill over into our daily lives, making us more attentive to the emotional lives of ourselves and others. This leaves us with a much better chance of maintaining our emotional balance and not being overwhelmed by them…
An emotionless life wouldn’t just be difficult or boring, it would be pretty much impossible. Fear, enjoyment, sadness and so on are all necessary to make sense of the world around us. They are the primary way we experience life and without them we would not wish the best for ourselves and others, nor would we strive to overcome difficulties and achieve goals. But they can also cause us to say and do things we later wished we had not and for most of us, control over this kind of emotional behaviour could be life changing.
This brings us to the second type of meditation which is designed to help us understand how our emotions work and identify particular traits and habits we would like to cultivate. It involves all sorts of fun emotional experiments performed on ourselves and helps us to see the world around us with a fresh curiosity we usually lack.
Finally, we use our improved ability to pay attention and the results of our emotional experiments to set about cultivating the qualities and skills we identified as desirable. Cultivating these qualities such as kindness and compassion in meditation means they will inevitably show up in our daily lives. These qualities traits have been shown to increase the overall happiness of ourselves as well as those around us, with even physical benefits such as improving the immune system.
When we consider the full picture: Sitting on a chair or cushion during a session of mindfulness meditation is like anchoring in a protected lagoon, relatively safe and unaffected by what might be happening in the open ocean. It’s peaceful, restorative but only a temporary stop before we move on through our day. Once we are back in the open water of our daily life, the mindfulness we have developed functions like a keel, keeping us upright as we are swamped and buffeted about in the turmoil of our own emotional oceans.
For me the very best, truest, most helpful teachings have so far come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of the book Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, which I am finding an immensely helpful and enjoyable read.
If you can possibly give yourself 90minutes I really recommend this video of the talk that he gave in London for Action For Happiness in March. I have no better introduction to mindfulness than this. His presentation includes some moments of mindfulness practice, enormous warmth, intelligence and wisdom communicated with lightness and humour, and poetry.
Practical Guided Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn
The following two videos are in fact both audio guided mindfulness sessions, the first concentrating on the fundamental practice of mindful breathing, the second involving a ‘Body Scan’ you complete with your mind and which is also a core component of building this form mindfulness practice. Each take about 20minutes and each provide a practical introduction to mindful meditation. If this is new for you, know that you need to feel you can give yourself and your attention for the full time of the guided session to really try them and find out what they offer.
If you don’t have even 20minutes for either of these exercises, here is a much shorter way of tuning in and starting to practice mindfulness:
“In many ways, because it is something so ordinary — so familiar — it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness],” says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. “The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn’t require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential ‘dead-time.’ Think of it as time better spent.”
Whether you’re driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter’s mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe’s meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.
1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.
2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.
3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you’ll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you’d prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.
4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.
5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.
I am combining my mindfulness practice with my Qigong exercises, the exercises that help to build and support Tai Chi. Qigong and Tai Chi both involve a fluidity and constancy of movement that are very much like the flow of breathing, and therefore mindfulness, each moment passing into the next. I am finding this helpful in developing my skill and discipline to keep my mind light and contained more on the momentary moments and sensations of my breathing and not so much on the rapid flutter of monkey thoughts that my mind naturally wants to pull itself away into.
So I am very pleased to have discovered this article, outlining the 3 different energy centres of Qigong, and how to nurture the all important lowest energy centre of the Dan Tien, located about an inch under the navel. This form of breathing is familiar from my performance and voice training, and it is helpful to learn of its importance too to both Qigong and mindfulness practices…
A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi (energy) in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.
As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest. Try this simple exercise. Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would. Which hand moves more? If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all. This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.
Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice. Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in. Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible. Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this. Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale. You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.
When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice. When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen. Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out. Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow. In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here.
This article provides guidelines from a range a different practitioners, including…
U Pandita says to watch the abdomen rise and fall:
Now place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing, neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural breath. You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the abdomen falls. ~ In This Very Life ~
Ayya Khema instructs us to pay attention to the nostrils:
This [breath] is ideally experienced at the nostrils. Breath is wind, and as it hits the nostrils, there is feeling. That feeling helps us to focus at this small point. ~ Being Nobody, Going Nowhere ~
Ajahn Chah is more inclusive:Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. ~ On Meditation ~
I Adapt your daily life so as to be conducive to practising mindfulness of the breathing
Lead an uncomplicated life — reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities such as eating, working, traveling, and social functions. Don’t worry about losing friends; some old friends may move away, but you will gain new good friends (kalyanamitta).
Concentrate on fulﬁling your duties. Allocate more time for the important aspect of life; that is, ﬁnd time for the study and practice of the dhamma. Compose your actions and speech by observing the ﬁve precepts and maintain a healthy mind.
2 Prepare a suitable place If you can ﬁnd a quiet place, that is best.
Find a room or comer in your home where you will not be disturbed by others.
3 Prepare your body
Finish all matters that have to do with others. Wash yourself. You should not be too hungry or too full. Some light exercise is good in order to prepare your body for lengthy sitting.
4 Prepare your mind
Ask yourself if you have matters needing immediate attention. If yes, take care of them or note them down to remind yourself of all future commitments, e.g. tomorrow you have to meet someone or get someone to do something, so that you have nothing more to worry about. Once you have done this and are free from all worries, both internal and external, allow your mind to be neutral and serene.
5 Observe mindfulness of the breathing
The ﬁrst step is to try to preserve the good feelings or wholesome states of mind (kusalacitta) with every in- and out-breath. In whatever posture, be it standing, walking, sitting or lying down, focus on the breath, cling to it as you would to your best friend. With mindfulness and clear comprehension, be conscious of the mind, whether pleasure or displeasure arises, so as not to cling to or follow cognitive objects or craving (tanha). Take deep breaths, release extended and relaxed exhalations while maintaining a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every in- and out – breath. Sustain a tranquil and joyful mind.
Marguerite Manteau-Rao offers this exercise, which is very like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape Meditation:
How we feel falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Most of us don’t stop long enough to notice, and yet this is precisely what we need to do if we are to maximize our inner happiness.
The practice goes like this:
1. Sitting down, eyes closed, get in touch with your breath and start paying attention to the quality of your experience, moment to moment, asking yourself the question, is it pleasant or unpleasant? Do this for a few minutes.
2. Then pay attention to how you react. Most likely, you will find you want to hang on to the pleasant moments, and you wil want to escape the unpleasant ones. This is how the human brain is wired. We are pleasure-seeking organisms.
3. Next notice the accompanying physical sensations in your body, particularly places of tightness. Whenever we react to our experience, our body naturally responds by tensing the muscles. We each have a place that our body favors. For me, it is a knot in the stomach, but it could just as well be tightness in the throat, or tension in the shoulders…
4. Without judgment, acknowledge the pain. The pain is two-fold, mental and physical. We stress our mind with our resisting thoughts, and we stress our body with our physical tensions. We can relax around this added discomfort, and discover the relief when we are just present for our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
We can take this practice into our daily life.
Advice from GEORGE HOFMANN
…During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment. So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment. When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.
But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all. Don’t ignore your thoughts… Instead, work with them.
As a thought pops up, acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath. Don’t carry it out to a conclusion. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t try to add reason at this time. Notice that you’re thinking, that your mind has pulled you away from your awareness of this moment, and place your attention back on the breath.
Labeling the thoughts may help you release them. If you’re sitting stewing about something you should have done differently this morning, label it judging and let it go. If you’re thinking about what to make for lunch or what to do this weekend, label that planning and return to the breath. If you’re taken by thoughts of beaches and the sun, label them fantasy and bring your attention back to the present moment.
The point is never to not think. The point is to remain aware of what is going on in and around you right now. Too many scattered thoughts can drag you away from the moment and cheat you of your present experience. Acknowledging thoughts, labeling them, and coming back to the present, to the breath, can help you stay centered and focused…
An extract from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s “The Distraction Addiction”
…The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of consciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.
The concept of the monkey mind appears throughout Buddhist teachings — one small indicator of the fact that the mind and its relationship to the world have been studied deeply for thousands of years. Every religion has contemplative practices, calls to use silence and solitude to quiet the mind. In John Drury’s introductory note to the Anglican Matins and Evensong, he exhorts worshippers “to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say” and “allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits.” Only then can one fully enter “the cool and ancient order of the services which gives a space and a frame, as well as cues, for reflections on our regrets and hopes and gratitudes.” Catholic monastics treat meditation as preparing the mind to receive God’s wisdom; the busy mind cannot hear the divine. in Buddhism, though, mental discipline is more an end in itself, rather than just a means to an end. The everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still, like the mirror-flat surface of a calm lake, Buddhists say, and its reflection will show you everything…
For too long, we’ve left the chattering monkey in charge of our technologies, and then we wonder why things go bad. We want to be like the cyborg monkey (albeit not as hairy and without the electrodes). We want that same capability to use complicated technologies without thinking about them, without experiencing them as burdens and distractions. We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds.
Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.
It’s an approach I call contemplative computing…
Contemplative computing isn’t just a philosophical argument. It’s theory and practice. It’s a thousand little methods, mindful habits informed by the four principles. Guidelines for checking e-mail in non-distracting ways. Rules for using Twitter and Facebook that encourage thoughtfulness and kindness. Ways of holding —literally holding —a smartphone so it commands less of your attention. Techniques for observing and experimenting with your technology practices. Methods for restoring your capacity to focus.
Information technologies are so pervasive, so much a part of work and home, so thoroughly embedded in modern life, it can be hard to know where to push back first. A good choice is to begin where many contemplative practices start. With breathing.
Link to read the rest this article , including details about the Cyborg monkey experiment referred to above, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s principles and guidelines for contemplative computing
Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what’s been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.…Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.2. Find a practice that resonates.…Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.3. Make time for intensive practice.A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.4. Practice in action.Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.5. Try strong determination sitting.My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!6. Teach others.…Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.7. Get feedback.The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. … If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.8. Sit, sit, sit.…Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.9. Practice with a group.Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.10. Become self-sufficient.As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you’re a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.
And if you are interested in the range and breadth of places and people that mindfulness is happening with, here is a selection of recent stories on this subject from across a sweep of different publications…
by Paul Clarke
Stress is a growing problem in the financial sector. Psychology surgeries serving bankers are busier than ever, investment banks are employing resilience specialists to add some mental steel to their employees. And, increasingly, they’re turning to a psychological technique with roots in Buddhism.
The likes of Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the large professional services firms like PwC are offering their employees the chance to partake in mindfulness – a technique that emphasises active attention on the moment to block out the clutter of day-to-day life. The aim is to improve mental capacity, reduce stress and even counter depression. William George, a board member at Goldman Sachs, is also a big advocate of the technique, and is a member of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.
…Google offers mindfulness to its employees, although Grazier suggests this is further away from the clinical version of the treatment, and it’s being described as the ‘new caffeine’ in Silicon Valley. Its popularity is also helped by the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is incorporating mindfulness into its curriculum.
However, it’s also gaining more traction in the financial sector. Louise Chester, director and co-founder of Mindfulness at Work, which works with City firms, credits it with saving her sanity during a “crazy period” working for UBS’s telecoms research team in the 1990s.
“HR departments like mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective,” she said. “It increases memory capacity, focus, emotional intelligence and makes you smarter. It trains you to use your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make more measured responses in a way that adds value and reduces stress.”…
There’s something different in the latest issue of Esquire: a how-to guide for meditation.
Meditation, of course, is central to The Huffington Post’s Third Metric initiative, and it’s something that Esquire has embraced as well. The men’s lifestyle magazine is more known for covering fashion, culture and entertainment and running features like “Sexiest Woman Alive” than for tips for de-stressing. But that’s exactly what’s in the September issue.
As part of our partnership with Wilderness Festival, HuffPost UK have been hosting daily panel discussions covering a range of topics. On Saturday, we explored Less Stress, More Living.
Hosted by editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, the panel included Claire Hamilton (head of Secret Sanctuary and acupuncture therapist), Jayne Morris (burnout expert and HuffPost UK blogger), Cherry Healey (TV presenter and HuffPost UK blogger), Ruby Wax (comedian, TV personality and mental health activist) and Susie Pearl (happiness and wellbeing activist – who also has the best job title in the world).
Questions from the audience included whether mindfulness is accessible to all, de-stigmatising mental health, and how gender affects our willingness to seek help for stress.
“We need to start thinking about how to manage our minds” – Susie Pearl
“Thoughts aren’t fact, so don’t take them seriously” – Ruby Wax
“I want to instil a positive mindset on my daughter. I realised that to do this, I had to change my own mindset first. I needed to think about the way I think and speak about things – for example body consciousness – because Coco learns directly from me.” – Cherry Healey
“The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Stress and anxiety are the root of many illnesses, we need to listen to our minds to prevent them.” – Jayne Morris
“You shouldn’t run away from your problems, you need to aim straight for the heart of the beast.” – Ruby Wax
“I suffer from ‘Room B’ syndrome, I always think other people are having a better time than me. Social media has made this worse – when comparing yourself to others, you rarely come out favourably.” – Cherry Healey
“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, everyone needs something different to get some balance in their lives. It might be yoga or meditation, or even singing and dancing” – Claire Hamilton
“We need to shift habits so that people catch themselves before reaching burnout” – Jayne Morris
“For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.” – Ruby Wax
“Meditation isn’t about feeling perky and happy, it’s about feeling shit and sticking with it.” – Ruby Wax
The debate over the relationship between Buddhism and the mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) has heated up recently to a red hot glow. On July 1, Ron Purser and David Loy published an attack on the mindfulness movement in the Huffington Post under the title, “Beyond McMindfulness.” As I write this, a Google search on “McMindfulness” generates over 7,700 hits, many of them praising the original article and joining in to bewail the “decontextualization” and watering-down of the sacred Buddhist traditions.
Unfortunately, as I have noted elsewhere, this “McMindfulness” meme often appears to be driven largely by fears instead of facts, as defenders of traditional Buddhist lineages fret over “what is being lost” as mindfulness enters the Western mainstream. From my perspective, as one who came to Buddhism through the MBIs, this is a terrible shame. We may have an irretrievable opportunity at this moment to enrich the cultural conversation between Buddhist ideas and values and those of the West, and the mindfulness movement clearly is at the crux of that conversation. It is my heartfelt wish that we do not waste this opportunity in a reactive backlash against this latest moment in the evolution of the dharma…
…the MBIs are in themselves outgrowths of Buddhism. Pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Segal, Jack Kornfield and others took what they learned practicing traditional Buddhism and adapted it for use in medicine and psychology. In order to make these practices susceptible to research and acceptable to secular health care institutions – and perhaps most of all to make them easier for the average patient to absorb and accept – the traditional doctrine was simplified and demystified, replaced with plain-English explanations of the practice and how it worked.
In turn, acceptance by research and health care institutions had an inevitable impact on how mindfulness is taught, learned and practiced. The emphasis on such positive health care outcomes as stress reduction, alleviation of depression, and the treatment of chronic pain encouraged the application of the MBIs in a standard clinical regimen. Students were “patients” who had received specific diagnoses and were prescribed an 8-week mindfulness course to address the specific symptoms of their diseases. It is not surprising, then, that first the health care community, and increasingly, the wider public, has come to see the MBIs as merely another item in the doctor’s bag of medical interventions. To this extent, the critics of mindfulness are correct in their assertion that the MBIs have been “decontextualized.”
As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, however, the prevailing institutional (and now cultural) absorption with specific outcomes misrepresents what the MBIs are and how they are practiced.
…the defining tasks of mindfulness – the embracing of lived experience, the recognition that one need not be compelled by one’s habitual reactivity, the development of equanimity and the ability to make wise choices as a result – are the same actions that are prescribed by the Four Noble Truths. The insight into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the ego that is a hallmark of the MBIs is an expression of the Buddhist concepts of Impermanence and Not-Self. While shorn of much of traditional Buddhism’s Pali/Sanskrit terminology, doctrinal concepts and cultural trappings, the MBI’s owe their effectiveness, I believe, to the wisdom of the dharma that Gotama taught more than two millennia ago, a wisdom grounded, then as now, in universal characteristics of embodied human awareness…
…My experience with the mindfulness practice community I am part of has shown me that community is about more than just support. Within the container of the practice community, one has the opportunity to experience the intersubjective resonance of a group of people dedicated to being mindful of themselves and each other. This experience is a powerful and visceral manifestation of not-self, and one that promotes the recognition of shared humanity from which compassion can grow. The group practice environment is ideal for exploring such concepts as kindness, compassion and non-harming, and learning what it’s like to put them into mindful action. And the awareness that the community has a tangible, ongoing existence, even if one may not immediately be able to participate in it, permits one to feel connected to it and supported by it, regardless of one’s distance from it…
…As Secular Buddhists, we get it from both sides. Skeptics demand to know why we are concerned about teaching and preserving an esoteric, mythology-drenched religion; traditionalists make many of the same charges of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” against Secular Buddhism that they make against “McMindfulness.” If there is an advantage to this position, perhaps it may be our ability to understand and share the perspectives of both sides in this conversation, and to present and model a middle way between them…
- De-stressing: why bother?
- Where does your stress come from?
- How can you calm down “mind chatter” in a busy life?
- Tips for being more energised and focussed at work.
- How does mindfulness lead to joyfulness?
By Helen Branswell
…others praise so-called mindfulness techniques as a way to help kids young and old to gain control of the anxiety that may be cluttering up their minds.
There are a variety of approaches, but the basic idea is to bring children into the present – as opposed to worrying about the future – as a way of grounding them and helping them calm themselves. Some ways of doing this are to focus on breathing – taking “brain breaks” in the language of the Hawn Foundation (started by actress Goldie Hawn), which has been a leader in bringing mindfulness techniques into schools…
Schonert-Reichl says one way to use mindfulness techniques to help with the stress of resuming school might be to focus, while walking to school, on all the sounds one hears. Instead of having a head full of anxious or negative thoughts about what the coming day or year might bring, the child can be helped to focus on what he or she is experiencing at that moment…
Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours a day sitting in a Buddhist monastery to achieve the benefits of meditation. Rather, you can use everyday experiences as opportunities to practice being mindful and connected to the present moment.
1. Practice mindful driving
…How does your body feel in the seat? Is it hard or soft? How do you hold your hands on the wheel? What sounds do you hear coming from your car and out the window? Can you feel the vibrations of the road? Was it recently paved or are there a lot of potholes?
When I drive like this I find it to be a much more peaceful experience, even if I’m caught in traffic.
2. Practice mindful eating
Instead of scarfing down your food as you read the paper, watch TV, respond to emails, or whatever else, practice just eating. Really slow it down.
What does that first bite of food taste like? Is it different from the second? How soon do you reach your fork for more? What does it feel like as you swallow? What does it sound like as your chew?…
3. Practice leaving no trace
I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the responsibilities of daily life, I can really let clutter build up in my home. So I decided to pick one room in the house and practice “leaving no trace.”
I picked the kitchen, and what this means is that when I leave this room, I try to leave it exactly the same as I entered it, as if I had never been there.
…This practice can help you become more aware of the impact you have on your environment, and it will probably make anyone you live with really happy, too!
4. Practice mindful listening
Often when we listen to another person talking, only part of our mind is listening. The other part is thinking about what we’re going to say in response, or making judgments about if we agree or disagree, or even daydreaming about something completely different.
Instead, practice really listening to what the person is saying, as if you were absorbing their words like a sponge. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you listen. Do you feel excited? Tense? Calm?
Pay attention to the speaker’s voice, their body language, their tone. What emotion or feelings do you imagine them experiencing?
The best part about this exercise is that you are giving a gift to the other person. Is is so rare that people really get the full attention of another person.
5. Practice mindful waiting
This is perhaps my favorite exercise, because we typically view “waiting” time as a waste of time, but it’s actually an opportunity for your to pause, observe, and be mindful.
The next time you are standing in line at the bank, or sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, or sitting at a restaurant waiting for your friend to show up, use that time to be mindful.
Without judging, observe how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense and impatient? Excited? Bored? Where in your body do you feel it? Is it like a tightness in your chest or a buzzing in your head?
You can even practice directing your attention to a neutral object, like your breath or the ambient sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back.
6. Answer the phone mindfully
Often we hear the phone ring and immediately jump up to answer. Instead, practice pausing and taking two deep breaths before you answer the phone. Pause, deep inhale, deep exhale. Pause again, deep inhale, deep exhale.
Notice what you are experiencing for these few seconds. Do you feel excited about who it could be? Anxious about what task or obligation this could mean? Just pause, notice, and then proceed to answer the phone.
As you can see, mindfulness does not need to be some elusive or abstract concept, and it does not need to take extra time out of your day to practice.
And as you start to practice these small habits, you will notice big benefits. Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop, and as you do, you will start to notice and appreciate small joys in your day that had previously gone unnoticed.
See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about mindfulness and self-mastery, happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, leadership, changing ourselves and changing the world…
We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.