“Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”
– Robin S. Sharm
The topic of mindfulness is receiving considerable attention in the media from mainstream to academic sources. Yet many people are confused about what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is a process by which we place our full attention on what is happening now to stay present rather than ruminating about the past or engaging in future possibilities.
Williams and Penman in Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World share a few myths about what mindfulness is NOT in their book. First, mindfulness does not follow a religious dogma rather it is a way to train yourself mentally. Second, it doesn’t require a specific position such as sitting cross-legged on pillows on the floor. In fact, you can practice mindfulness virtually anywhere. I have clients who practice it on planes and at their desks. Third, it does not require a specific amount of time. However, it will require you to invest, persist, and demonstrate some degree of patience when building your mindfulness practice. Fourth, it is not something you measure or give yourself a grade after doing as it is not something one is successful at or fails doing. In fact, learning can occur during every session. Fifth, it doesn’t alter desire and/or the drive for success, rather it allows you to see the world more clearly so that the actions you take align with what really matters to you.
Mindfulness places focus on being rather than doing. For most of us, there is more comfort with doing. William and Penman outline characteristics that represent the difference between doing and being. When we are in doing mode, we are in automatic pilot and miss opportunities to make a conscious choice about what is happening in our lives. Functioning in being mode takes us back to our senses so that what we are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting is happening in real time for us. When is the last time you really tasted your food, smelled the morning dew or experienced the feeling of a silky blanket? Clients often remark that they barely have time to eat, let alone do it mindfully, which demonstrates the potential benefit for slowing down to experience what we are doing when we are doing it. Another challenge when we are in doing mode, is determining what is real in our thinking. Our mind believes what thoughts we are thinking to be true and real however if we move into being mode we can evaluate the thoughts prior to our believing them to be real. I have often referred to Byron Katie’s work, from Loving What Is, with respect to believing what we are thinking. Using the questions “Is it true; is it really true; how do you feel when you think this way; and how would you feel if you didn’t think this way?” demonstrates that we actually can stop and reflect before you believe what you are thinking. Finally, when we are in action mode we risk becoming out of balance with the myriad of daily demands that are present in our lives. Moving into being mode restores the balance we need within to achieve goals and also avoid burnout.
If the last paragraph grabbed your attention and you want to know more about benefits that you can expect from mindfulness practice, here’s the list. First, many researchers including Achor, Meng-Tan, Kabat-Zin, and David, have found that people who practice mindfulness are more satisfied and happier than others. This results from being able to see problems and concerns more clearly without engaging in worst case scenarios and judgments. Things sometimes just are the way they are and acceptance allows us to move forward without agonizing over the experience. Second, mindfulness reduces stress. Jon Kabat-Zin in Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness shares that ‘the capacity for paying attention and for intelligent action can be cultivated, nurtured and refined beyond our wildest dreams’ and that this attention is vital to our ability to relieve stress. Third, Kabat-Zin’s research has also demonstrated an impact on our immune system. Wouldn’t a winter without cold after cold be a welcome respite from the typical cold season?
Williams and Penman provide the reader with a one-minute meditation that I am including with this article so that you can experience a small interaction with mindfulness. First sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and eyes closed. Focus your attention on your breathing. Pay attention to your breath noticing any differences between the inhale and exhale. Keep your attention on your breath even if you mind begins to wander. Wandering is very typical when you first start the one-minute meditation. In order to reduce thought wandering some resources recommend counting to eight on both the inhale and exhale breaths. Also some of my clients set a timer so that they are not tempted to check the clock while they are practicing this one-minute meditation. Keep in mind that this exercise can, at any time, be extended to two, three or five minutes easily. It also can fit with little difficulty into your daily routines as it can be done first thing in the morning, right before you fall asleep, or even when you are feeling stressed throughout the day.
Mindfulness is a tool that we can integrate into our lives and can deliver huge benefits when practiced with patience and persistence. Remembering that these two ingredients are essential to success with the practice of mindfulness will help to achieve the benefits which have been discussed in this article.
To Your Success!
- Achor- www.goodthinkinc.com
- Byron Katie- www.byronkatie.com
- Chade-Meng Tan- www.siybook.com
- David- www.susandavid.com
- Jon Kabat-Zin- www.mindfulnesscds.com
- Williams and Penman- www.franticworld.com