“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”― Blaise Pascal, Pensées
I listened to a talk given by Jon Kabat-Zinn recently, as part of the Mindfulness Summit [I enclose a link at the end of this article]. He was talking about the practice of mindfulness, not the sitting in quiet meditation, but the daily practice that is the essential core part of mindfulness.
As the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme that has helped thousands of people change their lives, he has spent over 30 years practicing mindfulness, as well as running the MBSR programme. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a mindfulness-based program designed to assist people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that were initially difficult to treat in a hospital setting. It uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful. Mindfulness-based approaches have been the subject of increasing research interest: 52 papers were published in 2003, rising to 477 by 2012. Nearly 100 randomized controlled trials had published by early 2014.
What Jon was talking about was the daily practice of mindfulness. How to live your life mindfully. He was honest about it as well. If you don’t get it, that is not a problem. You can do whatever you feel will help you. If that is going to the gym, going running, walking or anything else, it does not matter. It is important to do it mindfully, rather than on automatic pilot, as it were.
He talked about “who is doing the doing?”.
The idea, that from the moment we wake up, getting ready for work, spending the day working, sitting down for dinner in the evening; we are generally on auto-pilot. Too often, we will have spent the day “doing the doing” and suddenly think to ourselves, “where did the day go?”. It happens to all of us, no matter how much we try not to let it happen. Even whilst you are reading this article, I can guarantee that your thoughts will have drifted off – perhaps to food, work, or a to-do list of things.
Jon defines Mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”.
Mindfulness is a set of simple, yet powerful practices that can be incorporated into daily life to help break the cycle of unhappiness, stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion and promote genuine happiness.
The start of the definition is the key here: “paying attention” this is where you need to focus on the present moment. What are you doing moment to moment. One simple exercise is to be aware of cleaning your teeth first thing in the morning. Jon suggested you might want to count the first five breaths when you wake up. Just to ground yourself in the present moment. You can be mindful in many situations. It is being present and not letting your monkey mind wander off.
The “in a particular way” is where you focus on the activity or interaction you are being part of. Rather than the constant thoughts of “I, Me and Mine”, like “does he/she like me? Are they listening to me? Why do they always treat me that way?”, be present and open to the moment. If you find yourself getting caught up, focus for a second on your breath. The breath as it goes in and out. When I am in a meeting or in a stressful situation, I sometimes, stop for just a second before I would normally plunge straight in and just notice my breath. That really helps. And because it is so subtle, no one notices.
The “on purpose” element is you seek to be open intentionally and deliberately in the interaction that you are part of. Don’t check out of the conversation, don’t go into self-discussion mode. If you are in an activity, be fully aware of the activity. If it is walking, are you aware of how you are walking? It sounds simple, but having broken my ankle in the past and having to learn to walk again, I am aware that whilst walking is an automotive activity, you can be aware of how you walk.
The “in the present moment” speaks for itself. Now, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow, but rught here, right now.
And finally, “and nonjudgmentally.” This can sometimes be the most difficult aspect. If your mind wanders. You tend to remonstrate with yourself. Blame yourself for “failing” to follow through with the practice. This is where you need to bring forgiveness and being “non judgemental” to yourself and also to others.
It was fantastic listening to Jon and participating the in the month of Mindfulness Summit. As always, I leave you with the following:
“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.” ― Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday
Mindfulness Summit Link:
- Day 31 – An interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Deeper Dimensions of Mindfulness, plus the livestream replay.