What is mindfulness? For me it is being present in the moment, cognitively and emotionally. It is savouring the tangy, refreshing juice and tiny seeds of a ripe tomato. It is feeling the crunch of leaves and hearing the sounds underfoot. It is feeling your voice raise on the line with customer service and then readjusting your tone after a deep breath.
But what about these moments – Hearing the voice of a friend and wondering if s/he is excited or nervous about her new trip; seeing the person on the train and wondering if s/he is tired or unwell; seeing a baby scrunch up her face, will it be a smile or a cry? Was that being mindful or being intuitive?
I like to think being mindful makes you aware of your environment and surroundings so that you can adapt to what’s needed at hand. Mindfulness leads on to compassion and consideration which means you are more alert to the people, friends, and colleagues around you in your day-to-day life. Like all skills, practice really does make it easier.
Most people associate mindfulness with meditation, and it’s true the most famous advocate of mindfulness is the Buddha who meditated continuously for forty-nine days. But I believe being mindful can also be gentle and last only ten minutes. Meditation focuses on well, focus – whereas I like to focus on what’s around me. The colours, the sounds, the smells, they all help ground me to the present moment, and like a little super quick cat nap, these mindful minutes help me recalibrate and refresh (much like a webpage).
Am I doing it all wrong? Possibly, but it might not be as bad as it would first appear. A while back I read an article reporting the effects of mindfulness. As expected, psychologists found that practicing mindfulness helped the Marines build mental resilience by improving their memory and attention. Scientists have also found that it can enhance the brain’s ability for decision-making and problem-solving.
However being rooted in the present and focussed also meant that it was harder to have creative moments as the mind was having less time to wander. Also, a study found that the higher someone scored on mindfulness, the worse they did in implicit learning – basically “the kind that underlies all sorts of acquired skills and habits but that occurs without conscious awareness”:
After meditating upon such sacrilegious findings, no doubt the Buddha, who taught a middle way between worldly and spiritual concerns, would have agreed that there is a time for using mindfulness to discover inner truths, a time for using it to survive a battle or an exam and a time to let go of mindfulness so that the mind may wander the universe.
As in all things in life, the best way is a balanced way. Read the full article for more of this fascinating topic.
Breathing In vs Spacing Out | The New York Times Magazine
Image: Flickr, Charlotte.Morrall