As you will have guessed Ed and I are into Mindfulness, we do keep going on about it. The question is, is Mindfulness all that it is cracked up to be? It is currently being highlighted negatively in some press reports. A review published today in the journal ‘Perspectives on Psychological Science’ suggests that the hype about the effects of Mindfulness is ahead of the evidence. Some reviews of the studies done on mindfulness suggest it may help with psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress. However, even grander claims that are being made for the power of mindfulness can begin to make it look a bit silly. I can feel ‘the Secret Issue’ all over again. So, let’s get out of the hype and look at what Mindfulness really is.
The two words that get translated into the word mindfulness are the Sanskrit word Smrti and the Pali word Satti. Both would be translated as remembrance or to remember. This means that to be mindful is to remember but remember what?
The mind will always wander, it is what minds do. To allow the mind to simply wander is seen as mindless. To be mindful is to gently gather the mind back to a point of focus. Mindful practices are simply techniques that teach us to remember to bring our attention back to the point of focus. When the mind wanders and becomes mindless we forget to focus. When we realise that the mind has wandered and we bring it back to the point of focus we have just practised mindfulness. We forget and then we remember over and over again and this is the practice.
So what is the practical application of this. Mindful practice is normally based around, and begins with, breath focus exercises. We all know that our mind wanders. It is fairly easy to get hold of the idea that if we can be more focussed, in whatever we are doing, we will get a bit better at it. So if we sit and try to focus on our breath the mind will wander. As we observe the wandering mind and bring it back to the breath we are learning to be mindful. The more we practice the less we get attached to the wandering mind and the more we able to focus. The magic effect of this is that learning to focus spreads from the simple mindfulness practice into the rest of our life and we find that we have improved concentration, we are able to get more done and can become a more efficient person.
We also become more attentive and aware. With increased awareness the side effects can be calmness, increased sensitivity, reduced stress, pressure and anxiety and increased happiness. It is obvious that some people will not like meditating, even people that ‘like’ meditating have moments of not liking, that’s the point we become aware, we notice craving and aversion. For the people who really don’t ‘like’ there are other ways to develop mindfulness.
Mindfulness purists will tell you that the only way you can become mindful is to meditate, this is not true. To be Mindful is to remember to be in the present moment. Many processes allow us to be in the moment such as running or any exercise that requires that we are living in the present moment.
It is quite right to say that someone can mindfully make a cake, paint a picture, write a book, ride a bike and so on as long as we mean that during those activities we were remembering to be in the present moment.
Once we realise that most depression is attachment to past unresolved emotional events and that depression comes from reliving these events in the present, it then follows that if we can remember to let go of the past, and remember to focus into the present then the depression will diminish.
Once we realise that most anxiety is the imagination projecting into the future imaging events that may never happen and living them in the present, it then follows that if we remember to let go of the future, and remember to focus into the present then the anxiety will diminish.
Mindfulness is not a trick, it is not a magic cure, it is the simple act of remembering to remember. It is Satti and Smrti it is remembrance.
When we forget to remember, when we become mindless, our world can change in a very different way. When we forget who we are we can do bad or negative things that do not serve us well and may lead us into harm or danger. We can create debt, make bad relationships or create dependency on substances, things or other people. It is only in remembering that we overcome addictions and problems.
When we remember to remember we have moved from reaction to response. When we respond we become truly ‘respondable’ or responsible and choose to take control of who we really are. Any process or change comes from the ability of remembering to remember. But, you know what?, doing some mindfulness practice for just thirty minutes a day will make remembering to remember oh, so, much easier to do.
Above all remember to be happy