A very conscious decision
The power and sheer brilliance of the mind has long been documented. In recent years it has been frequently packaged in the self-help arena that harnessing positive mental capacity directly correlates to success and great results (‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, ‘The Power of Now’ by Ekhart Tolle, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Peale), but are we taking enough time in our hectic lives to be ‘present’? In an environment where there is so much pressure and attention paid to on our physical image and material wealth, it’s surprising that our mental health and wellbeing doesn’t necessarily receive the same focus and effort.
It’s easy to hurtle through the days (which all blur into one) at top notch speed, barely stopping to take a breath, before you crash out at night with an even bigger to-do list then when you rose. The end result is probably a dissatisfied, stressed and burnt out individual largely running on adrenaline – cue inevitable later date illness, meltdowns and unhappiness. This ‘mode de vie’ is the polar opposite of what mindfulness is meant to teach us, the essence of which is concentrated on taking time to be more conscious in the present moment. Not being pulled in by past thoughts, issues, experiences or worrying about forthcoming plans, events or schedules but living very purposefully and cognitively in the current moment and becoming more in tune with our emotions. Easier said than done admittedly.
Psychology Today describes Mindfulness as - ‘a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.’ Given it’s usage in the medical arena, counselling and psychotherapy, alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy and many more therapeutic strands, I’d be inclined to suggest it’s a learned art form. A behaviour pattern we have to teach ourselves or be taught, it’s not a given that it is the human default mode. It may also address why people who seem to have it all might not necessarily be happy. Happiness is an emotion, a feeling, a sentiment, an experience - it cannot be bought and is shouldn’t be assumed despite a particular setting. The more conscious and present we are, the more controlled and in touch we are with our feelings and the more likely we are truly living our life and appreciating, embracing everything life throws at us.
Although many associate the roots of mindfulness as being linked with the 2500 year old practice of Buddhist meditation , because the fundamental principle is about teaching our minds to be more consciously present, accepting and controlled - many brands, strategists, business leaders and individuals are embracing this open thinking and concept in its own right.
Policy makers are starting to adopt core values as part of their behaviour change theories for campaigns and consumer marketing gurus are cottoning on too. This month (Oct 2015) saw the launch of the Mindful Nation UK report, the first policy document of its kind, from the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group. A culmination of several years’ work to bring mindfulness training into British politics. The report examines the role that mindfulness could play in areas of public policy, such as health, education, the workplace and criminal justice, as well as looking at how training can be offered with integrity. In his foreword, Jon Kabat-Zinn (the man who popularised mindfulness in the West in the 1970s ) says the report “May be a singular and defining document…addressing some of the most pressing problems of society at their very root—at the level of the human mind and heart.”
Did you know some health insurance companies will cover mindfulness courses or other related psychological help as part of their core offering? It’s certainly a hot topic, McGill University in Montreal even has a Twitter handle dedicated to the subject and ‘mindfulness’ has popular related Twitter hashtags . The public health service in the UK, the NHS, actively promotes mindfulness as a means to combat stress, anxiety and depression . It notes that evidence shows ‘that what we do and the way we think has the biggest impact on wellbeing’.
Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says that ‘mindfulness can be an antidote to the "tunnel vision" that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired. "It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says. "An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. "Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. "Awareness of this kind doesn't start by trying to change or fix anything. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."
According to Buddhist thought, individuals have a tendency to ruminate about the past and/or rush towards the ‘ungraspable’ future, which never materialises (Shonin et al., 2014a). Buddhism asserts that this behavioural tendency of ‘not being fully present’ can distort an individual’s perception of reality and lessen their ability to consciously participate in the present moment (Dalai Lama, 2001). “If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us .” Dalai Lama
There are many paths and perspectives surrounding and exploring mindfulness. Ultimately the implementation of it in one’s personal life has to be a very conscious decision – a lifestyle choice, a commitment and a chosen approach if you will, only then can you potentially reap the benefits.