You may have heard of the word mindfulness and wondered what it meant. I feel that the topic of mindfulness is slowly infiltrating the psyche of our society and that it is on the verge of becoming mainstream. Although I am not an expert on the topic I would like to take this opportunity to share the little I know and direct you to further resources.
You may be thinking that mindfulness sounds very Zen or too spiritual for you. Indeed, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but neuroscience has finally caught up with thousands of years of these ancient teachings and has proven to the Western skeptical mind that the practice of mindfulness does without any question help reduce stress. With lowered stress come other benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease disease symptoms and has helped manage chronic pain in patients. The practice of mindfulness can also help increase personal energy and concentration thus leading to higher productivity. Mindfulness is being used successfully in many areas like parenting, in schools, in the workplace, in management and leadership.
The word mindfulness is a translation from the Sanskrit word, smRti. It can also be translated to mean awareness, inspection, recollection, and retention. In the practice of Buddhism, mindfulness is one of the eights steps taken to end misery and achieve enlightenment. However, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, states that, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, MBSR, in 1979 and has been teaching it and treating patients ever since. Jon’s inspiration came from the teachings of the world renown and highly respected Zen master, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh.
The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.
– Thích Nhất Hạnh
A Maldives Island Sunset
In the traditional practice of mindfulness you find a quiet place to meditate and you focus on your breath to help clear your mind and your thoughts. You may meditate following an instructor’s words, choosing to recite something (your mantra), or listening to specific music while focusing on your breathing. You achieve a level of calmness, clarity, and relaxation. I must share that my meditation practice is a work in progress. It is very difficult to set time aside, and when I do it is even more difficult to clear the mind which is why they advise you to focus on the breath. Then there were those times that I got too relaxed and ended up peacefully and happily dosing off while listening to my instructor’s soothing gentle voice. (Which you are not really supposed to do. I hope my mindfulness teacher is not reading this, otherwise he’ll send me back to remedial meditation 101). I am however optimistic that with each passing day I will develop this practice further until it becomes a well executed habit.
So I decided that I needed to try something in addition to classic meditation that was perhaps easier for me to implement. I like to call this practice Anantara Meditation अनन्तर© where anantara is the Sanskrit word for continuous. That is, I can practice a form of meditation, continuously throughout my day by consciously focusing on each of my daily activities (while successfully managing to stay awake!). Once I identify the activity, I center on the environment or the situation surrounding the activity and on the activity itself. I become aware of my body, emotions, and sensations. This increased awareness provides clarity if decision-making is required and I become more receptive to choices available to me. By doing this I am actively living in the moment and it is then that I can perform better while achieving a higher sense of satisfaction and appreciation. For example, when I walk my dog Maya, I focus on just that. I focus on her and her actions. I take in the scenery, the sounds, the sights, the smells and I absolutely do not allow myself to use the cell phone, unless I am taking a picture of something beautiful. Another example can be if I suddenly find myself in a disagreement with one of my children, I take the opportunity to focus and think of what it is I want to say and why. This allows me to de-escalate the situation as opposed to losing my temper and accomplishing nothing (which of course I have learned from experience). This active awareness leads to mindful living. It does not matter what the activity is, you can be mindful in: parenting, relationships, communications, eating, wellness, leadership, teaching, medicine, learning, etc. This practice also requires dedication, but its something you can do at any time and in any place. Our challenges are that we live in a society where multi-tasking is the norm and when half the time we run on autopilot. On top of that, we are addicted to the constant bombardment of information being delivered on our personal electronic devices. Science has once again proven to us that multi-tasking does not work and that information overload is not good for us. We run the risk of ending up with half-completed tasks and dysfunctional lives.
Mindfulness, no matter how you choose to practice it, can be such a powerful tool to calm ourselves and allow us to re-boot. It can help us perform better, makes us more resilient and allow us to better adapt to today’s ever-changing world. There is ample scientific evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness. At the end of this posting I share many links with you so that you can explore further.
“The sum of your daily mindful activities, turn into a mindful day, which blossom into a mindful life.”
Rubbing the Happy Buddha’s belly in Central Vietnam
My Report Card
So as I finish this posting I ponder on my own life and share with you my thoughts. I try to model this behavior of mindfulness because that is the only way I can hope to motivate others in my life. I am very lucky to have loved ones model the behavior for me as well. I too am on this journey of self-improvement and self-reflection. I must erase “I should have” from my vocabulary and not dwell on regrets. On the other end of the spectrum, I need to stop postponing events or decisions to the future and take action today. I try at the end of each day to look back and say, “today was an awesome day” with a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, happiness, and gratitude. The key is to find those things that will give me these feelings. Often times it is the subtle moments in your day that are the most powerful, but that so often elude us because by themselves these subtle moments appear to be very normal, and therefore we take them for granted on any given day of our lives. For example, moments like a great conversation you have with your teens on your drive home from school, when your dog greets you at the door with exuberance and love, when your spouse bakes you a triple layer chocolate cake for your birthday, when a friend’s positive words provide encouragement, when a parent hugs you, when you are so inspired by a leader that you give them your absolute best. The list is endless. I can report that I have made progress, but I have plenty of room for improvement. I continue on this expedition with a positive mind and an open heart.
“Learn to recognize and acknowledge the subtle moments in life, for it is the collection of these subtle moments that have the most impact on the life we choose to live.”
…And if you are still yearning for more knowledge on mindfulness, and about living a mindful life, simply take a look at your canine companion, and they will teach you everything you need to know about living in the moment.
Maya, My guru.
For further reading on mindfulness go to Plum Village, the Mindfulness Practice Center of a the world renown and highly respected Zen master, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh:
For more information of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical school: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx
For Training to become a Mindfulness Teacher: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/oasis/index.aspx
Mindfulness Practices in London
Leith Brown: http://www.bmindful.co.uk/
Veronique Ryan: http://www.mindfulfamily.co.uk/
Mindfulness in Medicine
For more on Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, also known as MBSR program: http://www.mindfullivingprograms.com/whatMBSR.php
The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx
To read about clinical applications of Mindfulness: http://www.mindfulnet.org/page4.htm
To read the results of a Cleveland Clinic study looking at the impact of mindfulness on cardiovascular patients: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/exercise/yogaandmindfulnessforahealthyheart.aspx
Mindfulness in Parenting
Mindfulness in Classrooms and Educations
Many schools around the world have started to implement mindfulness. We were very grateful that our children’s school in London, The American School in London, was at the forefront of adopting these practices. In 2012 they hosted a day retreat for educators from around the world.
Mindfulness in Schools Global Conference 2013: http://mindfulnessinschools.org/events-media/conference-2013/
To read about the success of mindfulness in classrooms, read: http://www.kindredcommunity.com/2013/03/room-to-breathe-a-documentary-on-teaching-mindfulness-in-schools/
For children’s books on mindfulness: http://themindfulclassroom.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/using-the-power-of-stories-to-introduce-the-concept-of-mindfulness/
Using mindfulness to teach different kinds of learners: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/profdev/profdev170_a.shtml
Mindfulness in Leadership
To read about mindfulness can help you become a better leader:
Mindfulness in the Military
Mindfulness in a Nation
This past weekend I attended an amazing mind/body/soul retreat in New York City held by Hay House, a major publisher of self-help inspirational books. To my great surprise, one of the authors speaking at the conference was, Tim Ryan, a United States Congressman for Ohio. Setting political affiliations aside, Tim Ryan has written a book entitled, “A Mindful Nation”. Tim Ryan was introduced to mindfulness several years ago and was so inspired by it that he decided to bring the practice to schools in his district. In his book he presents the scientific findings that support the benefits of mindfulness. He shared with us how nervous his staff was when he announced to them that he was planning on writing this kind of book. They felt he was committing political career suicide. Tim Ryan stuck to his convictions and wrote A Mindful Nation. Perhaps a more mindful government is what we need to run this country. For further reading on “A Mindful Nation” by Congressman Tim Ryan:
For Inspirational books and videos visit Hay House Publishing:
Why Multi-tasking does not work: