What Is Mindfulness And How Can It Enhance My Well-Being?
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From Invictus -William Ernest Henley
Mindfulness is a common place intervention for treating stress, anxiety, depression and addictions amongst many other ailments. Those who practice tell us as a result of their experiences, they no longer see life as a series of random events, rather - they see life as a creative process where they are the artist and designer of their own experiences.
So what is Mindfulness?
Minfulness is what it is! That is to say when we are being mindful we are aware of our life without judging it. So as a mindful observer if I feel pleasant I am aware I feel pleasant if I feel sad I am aware I feel sad. This awareness is what makes mindfulness a basic life skill for reducing stress and enhancing health and well-being.
Jon Kabat Zinn tells us mindfulness is ‘moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness, cultivated by paying attention.’ In meditation most of us understand we focus our awareness on, say, our breath, which allows us to come back to ourselves and have awareness of body sensations, thoughts, and feelings.
A simple practise is to observe the thoughts and note in time with the breath, this is a bit like short-circuiting the mind and therefore the emotions - for example, “In breath, anxious” “Out breath, anxious” and so on. Notice we stop thinking about what has triggered the worry and simply name it and breathe it. In this way we get to choose our response, we get to see what our mind is up to, and learn to watch our thoughts and let them go without getting caught up in them and being driven by them.
We spend much of our lives on ‘automatic pilot’ and mindfulness helps us stop the ‘hamster wheel’ the rush of life where we go around and around busily doing, doing, doing and simply observe, simply be. We step into the present moment, we begin to pay attention to what going on inside of us and around us. Our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment.
Many people consider meditation and mindfulness as interchangeable and in some ways they are. You see if meditation is about paying attention, and the only way in which we can pay attention is through our senses, then that includes the mind. Mindfulness is a way of connecting to ourselves and our experience, it encompasses our experience of our life and the world we live in and the miracle of the intricacy we call our body, mind and emotions.
For so many of us we are wired up to the 24/7 lifestyle – blackberry at the ready, speedy instant responses. Often we are on automatic pilot habitually getting from A to B without stopping to observe why. If you drive you’ll know you can drive for miles without being aware of what you are doing at times. It’s the same with life we are often miles away, completely unaware of our ‘present’ moment, instead we are often ruminating over what has happened or worrying about what is to come.
When you are driving to work, check and see if you are in the car. You may already be in a meeting at work. You may even have the whole meeting in the car with you!” Now imagine if you are buying into stressful responses or experiencing other upsetting emotions, you’ve bought into a full blown anxiety experience and in reality it hasn’t even happened. Which of course just digs us deeper into anxiety, depression or stress when actually what we most want is respite from those self defeating thoughts.
THE MIND BODY CONNECTION
‘Where the mind goes the body follows!’ In other words what we tell ourselves about our world determines how we feel about it. You may have done that old exercise about the LEMON? Where you visualise yourself holding a lemon, smelling the scent, feeling the texture of the peel, looking at the vivid bright yellow of its colour and really associate with it. Now imagine taking a knife and cutting the lemon, observing the juices flowing over the chopping board, feeling the wetness on your fingers and finally taking a slice and biting into it and tasting the tangy, sharp freshness of the lemon.
It is virtually impossible not to start salivating at this point. We experienced the LEMON without the lemon. So if we keep thinking about our stress, fear or worry we’ll get more of it. The mind body link is our amazing powerful tool to create positive change in our lives because ‘if we can change how we think we can change how we feel’
Think about a time when you worked yourself into a state of anxiety, anger, stress or fear only to realise what you were worrying about really isn’t that important after all. In fact many people who suffer stress acknowledge that a part of them is aware, observing themselves musing they don’t really need to stress, but once the emotion has taken a hold they lose sense and the powerful emotions take on a life of their own!
There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet
Mindfulness helps us step out of auto-pilot, it helps us create space for awareness and when we are in a space of awareness we can change our response and eventually change our habits by becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings. In terms of driving to work, maybe just try being in the car next time, be aware of the steering wheel, the seat, the frame, the road, the car in front, how it feels, can you hear or smell anything? Watch your thoughts coming and going, like clouds in the sky, and each time they wander off to the past or the future just gently bring them back and focus on your breath being in the car.