What is all the fuss about??
Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism and is defined by John Kabat Zinn as awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, without judgement in the present moment. It harnesses our capacity to be aware and awake to what is going on in our bodies, minds and hearts and in the world around us. Our senses being the gateway to bringing about this kind of presence. You could call it “money in the bank”.
What is the opposite of Mindfulness?
Have you ever driven your car somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realise you remember nothing about your journey? Kinda scary eh? Have you ever left the house and wondered if you locked the door and plugged out the hair straightener? Sound familiar? These are common examples of mindlessness or autopilot. The mind is like a monkey grabbing onto branches from the past and future leaving us asleep to our everyday tasks. Research now suggests that we spend 47% of the day in autopilot and not present in our own lives. Imagine we spend half of our short lives asleep!
A story goes about a man and a boy having a conversation about their day. The man said today I had my breakfast, read my book, went for a walk and ate my dinner. The boy replied so did I!!! The man said no you didn’t you see when I had my breakfast. I really enjoyed eating my breakfast. When I read my book I enjoyed every page. When I went for my walk I truly went on my walk and when I ate my dinner I savoured every mouthful. He said to the boy when you had your breakfast you were wondering what book you were going to read and when you went for your walk you were pondering about what you would have for your dinner.
This is a classic example of autopilot and we can easily slip into the trap of human doing rather than human being. Living in this way we often fail to notice the beauty of life that surrounds us, we fail to hear what our bodies are telling us and we all too often become stuck in mechanical conditioned ways of thinking and living. This can make us vulnerable to stress, depression, anxiety and reactivity. I think we’re all guilty of going from 0 to 100 in seconds in terms of reactivity.
With mindfulness it’s a knowing of what is happening right now as if this is the only moment where life really exists. Not in the future or the past. It’s not healthy for us to continuously live in either of these places. Our physical bodies much prefer being in the present moment and in fact our parasympathetic nervous system is switched on when we spend longer periods engaged right here right now. John Kabat Zinn would say it’s like having money in the bank for times when we are stressed and allows us the ability to catch ourselves before moving into our usual conditioned habits.
It’s repetitive and we practice in class and at home so we can reshape our brains and according to neuro scientists-leading to handling life’s challenges in a very different way. You wouldn’t expect big biceps without repeatedly lifting heavy weights and our brains are no different. When we practice the invitation is to notice when our thoughts are distracted and wandering and intentionally bring our attention back to our senses. Keep coming home again and again. This is the repetition, this is the practice. Baer et al (2006) sates that “Mindfulness shrinks the brains “fight or flight” centre the amygdala.” This part of the brain is responsible for so many destructive emotions such as anger, fear and unhappiness.” Through the practice we start to develop empathy, love and compassion towards ourselves and those around us.
How do you practice mindfulness?
We practice mindfulness formally and informally. Formal practice is commonly referred to as meditation and these practices might look like sitting mediation, body scan, yoga and mindful walking. Informal practice is the rest of your life. If we give our full presence to showering, drinking tea, eating, driving and brushing our teeth then we are waking up and fully living our lives.
How beautiful would it be to live like this?
Author: Kathryn Sheehan