A mind without mindfulness has been likened to an airport without a control tower. Planes land at Heathrow every sixty seconds. Imagine the chaos without the control tower, planes landing in at any time, crashing into each other, rushing for the same parking spots.
Research shows we have about 70 000 thoughts a day. Thoughts collide, crash, vie for ascendancy, land without permission and direct without permission too. Not just once every 60 seconds but every 1.2 seconds. No wonder our brains are full! Mindfulness can help focus our brains, bringing calm and clarity of thought.
Jon Kabat-Zinn , “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” 1
Mindfulness is the mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is used as a therapeutic technique.
Simple. It is not religious or anti-religion. It is a brain-training tool, proven to help memory, creativity, resilience, self-awareness, compassion, anxiety, stress, depression, blood pressure, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, back pain IBS, MS, cancer.
Mindfulness creates positive thought patterns by paying attention, on purpose, to the present (not in ruminating on the past or worrying about the future), non-judgementally. We let go of the inner critic. It’s more the being mode and not the doing mode.
How much are we ‘doing’ and how much are we ‘being’? Our doing mode involves rational critical thinking, and can lead to brooding, making problems worse.
In the ‘being’ mode once emotions are felt, they tend to dissolve, no matter how intense they may be. So the being mode is a great place to be in when going through difficulties.
Mindfulness takes us into the being mode. It stops our mental noise. Being is awareness, and awareness of our thinking. Stopping, to notice. When time stands still.
You are already mindful – have you ever been stopped by beautiful music/sunset/singing? It’s catching these moments and increasing them. Consciously tap into them. You can make a cup of coffee, or you can mindfully make a cup of coffee. It’s not adding more things onto a busy day- but transforming the everyday things into moments of mindfulness. Mindful moments focusing on the ‘here and now’ like showering, brushing our teeth, looking at the sunset, stopping for ten seconds to listen to that bird, bring in the control tower. Mindfulness helps us be aware, that we’re thinking about thinking, and can increase happiness.
Mindfulness sound easy.
Except we have interfering thoughts of the past/future and worry about the present intruding onto this mindfulness.
So we need help to focus. This comes with practice. You notice this walking across grass. The first few times you figure out where to go, but after a few days you stop the grass growing where you’ve walked, and after time a dirt path appears that is easy to walk down. Practising mindfulness is like creating a clear path through the many options available. After time it gets easier, and you get its benefits more and more.
People who take 8 sessions of mindfulness meditation training will on average be 20 percentage points happier one month later than a control group and have better responses in their immune system. Such training can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.2
The challenge is to look up a mindfulness meditation today3, try it out for 5 minutes a day for a few weeks. Notice the difference.
1Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain, and illness using mindfulness meditation.” 2013. Jon is a professor of medicine: his work using mindfulness for stress at the University of Massachusetts showed the effectiveness of mindfulness when used regularly.
2 R. Davidson et al, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65:564-70, 2003. BK Hölzel et al, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1):36-43, 2011
3 Recommended: Mark Williams and Danny Penman “Mindfulness; Finding Peace in a frantic world”. It has an 8 week mindfulness course, a CD of meditations. Meditations also available on YouTube; search ‘Mark Williams mindfulness’.