toward wholehearted living
You may be here because of a difficulty or a curiosity to find out more about mindfulness. Welcome. You are warmly invited to visit this website mindfully.
Please take a pause…
Stress is part of normal life. But it is just as normal to want none of it. After all, why would anyone want to be with an illness, a loss, a rejection, a financial worry, or any other threat? These concerns lead us to panic about things not working out. Difficulties from the past may feel too close to home again. Add to the mix a dose of self-judgement, the distress can be overwhelming. Instead of being with what’s real in the here and now with compassion, the human mind is prone to embellishing the situation with potential realities that cause more pain. It’s possible to learn not to get hooked again and again.
An approach that has grown exponentially to work with unhelpful human tendencies in challenging situations is mindfulness. Everybody is talking about it. A recently published parliamentary report, The Mindful Nation, recommends that mindfulness be implemented within healthcare, education, the workplace and the criminal justice system. But what is it?
Mindfulness is an ancient practice of simply noticing whatever arising in mind and body in the present moment. Regular practices of coming back again and again to attend to the here and now without judgment, be it good, bad or ugly, can grow the kind of clarity that could become a springboard for skillful action.
However, this isn’t easy even when the present moment is a pleasant one. When we encounter fear, pain, shame… it gets harder. The kind of intentional awareness, come what may, becomes more accessible after a period of cultivation. It is often more possible to keep up the practice with the support of a class or community. This is why mindfulness courses are burgeoning.
Currently the gold standard for mindful awareness training in the secular world is the 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) programmes. MBSR was first developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s, under the leadership of Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBCT integrates MBSR with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and shares many similarities with MBSR. Today, mindfulness-based interventions are available in many parts of the world, some closer to the original MBSR and MBCT programmes than others.
The physical and mental health effects of 8-week programmes provided by major centres are being increasingly researched. The latest studies make use of modern brain imaging technology. They show that mindfulness meditation can alter the structure and function of the brain, such as greater blood flow to and thickening of areas associated with attention and emotional integration. The changes are undoubtedly much more pronounced in long-term meditators. However, even for participants on the 8-week programme, grey matter density has been shown to increase in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory and decreased in areas associated with stress.
“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.” Oprah Winfrey
Perhaps we could all use an extra dose of awareness, but it doesn’t follow that we should all do a mindfulness course. What’s more, courses, instructors, temples and clinics don’t own mindfulness, you already have it, and your daily activities offer you ample opportunities to grow it.
Try following one brief and routine act today and do it wholeheartedly. For example, when you have a cup of tea, open all your senses and take in the whole experience. When you notice your mind has gone elsewhere, gently bring it back to the sensual experience of tea drinking. The same goes for eating your breakfast, and taking a shower. Start small. In time, it becomes easier to return your wandering mind to attend to what you are doing.
You have been absorbing a lot of information, what do you notice about your mind and body right now? Time to take another pause?
“Your body helps you learn, understand, and make sense of the world. It can influence or even change your mind – whether or not you are aware of its influence.” Sian Beilock