Mindfulness is everywhere – there’s even a satirical Ladybird Book of Mindfulness – but is it just another trend in self-help or can it really combat stress, anxiety and depression?
Words: Simon Nicholas
Mindfulness is everywhere. The shelves of your local bookshop are groaning under the weight of guides to everything from Mindful Parenting to Mindful Gardening – there’s even a satirical Ladybird Book of Mindfulness. It is increasingly the panacea of choice in schools, hospitals, in the headquarters of Apple and Google and the trendiest Silicon Valley start-ups.
But what if there was actually something in this new fad that will make it so much more than other trends in self-help – such as the long-forgotten boom in Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
We’ve all been there, first thing in the morning in the shower – supposedly feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – and our mind is already lurching ahead to that important meeting this afternoon or reliving a stressful argument with a loved one. The fact is, we all spend too much time in our heads. Often the more successful we are in ‘worldly’ terms, the greater the problem becomes. And the irony is that the more we go over these ‘problems’, the more stuck we become.
We’ve all been there, first thing in the morning in the shower – supposedly feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – and our mind is already lurching ahead to that important meeting
The American Philosopher and Psychologist William James postulated over 100 years ago that people have two fundamental modes of attention: Experiential Focus and Narrative Focus. We are all familiar with Narrative Focus. We’re driving down the motorway and suddenly ‘come to’ – realising we’ve been away with the fairies for some considerable time, perhaps remembering a moonlit stroll on our honeymoon, but more often than not going over and over repetitive patterns that cause us stress. It’s almost as if the car has been driving itself.
The miracle of Mindfulness is that it allows us to systematically retrain our brains to gradually shift from Narrative to Experiential Focus. So when we’re walking on the beach on our well-earned holiday, we REALLY ARE on that beach with the sand between our toes, sun shimmering on the waves and the sounds of gulls overheard – and not still mentally in the office.
Modern Neuroscience has revealed that the adult brain is considerably more adaptable (or ‘plastic’) than was once believed. By repeatedly paying attention to the present moment, we can literally re-wire our brains to focus on what’s really happening in our lives and deepen our connection with the universe, of which we are an integral part. Through the practice of Mindfulness, we can come to glory in the patterns of light refracting through the rain in a car’s headlamps, for example, rather than worrying that said car is a newer model than our own. Mindfulness can slowly start to make the everyday extraordinary and the mundane magical.
When you are out walking make a once-a-second silent mental note of whether you are experiencing Touch, Sight or Sound in that moment. This will allow you to harness ‘The Power of Now’ and keep you rooted in Experiential rather than Narrative Focus.
When you are eating your breakfast in the morning, pay attention to the chewing, tasting and swallowing of your food.
3 Feel it in your feet
Pay attention to the feeling of your feet in your shoes as many times as you remember to do so during the day. This will keep you grounded in the present moment.
4 Take a moment
The next time you are struck by the beauty of nature – the moonlight breaking through clouds or sunlight dappling against leaves – take an extra moment to appreciate the miracle of simply being alive.
5 Past, present, future
In a more typical meditation style, sit up with your eyes closed and try to notice when your mind moves into the future or the past. If you find yourself in the future, simply say ‘future’ to yourself. You may find this difficult at first as your mind rushes about all over the place (known as ‘monkey-mind’), but the very act of sitting still should cause your thought stream to slow down and each time you note ‘future’ or ‘past’ you may find the mental noise suddenly dies away to be replaced with a restful awakeness.
See, you don’t need to grow a straggly beard, wear tie-die or escape to a misty mountain in Tibet to benefit from this ancient practice. It is all about being present exactly where you are.