The habit of ignoring our present moments in favour of others yet to come, leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and the world around us. Religion has traditionally been the domain of such fundamental inquiries within a spiritual framework, but mindfulness has little to do with religion, except in the most fundamental meaning of the word, as an attempt to appreciate the deep mystery of being alive and to acknowledge being vitally connected to all that exists.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn
What if there was a mental training that could improve your attention, impulse control and the quality of your life? If it allowed you to learn how to step back from old habits and reactivity and create new ways of working with stress and cultivating resilience. A training that allows for more emotional balance and has been scientifically proven to result in greater levels of appreciation and acceptance of who you are ?
So you can:
- Become a better listener
- Consciously choose to act as opposed to react
- Be more decisive
- Be focused and able to concentrate under pressure
- Improve you memory
- Learn to self-regulate skillfully
Why not be open to try it?
Mindfulness is maintaining moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and surrounding environment. This practice involves acceptance and non-judgment. It enables us to tune into the present moment rather than living on automatic pilot, rehashing the past or imagining the future.
So we develop the ability to pay attention to things as they ACTUALLY are, in any given moment, as opposed to how we would PREFER them to be. As a practice, it teaches us how to be more skilled in our internal environment. We gently free the mind from involvement with thinking. We don't try and fix the internal environment. Instead we come to understand that it is all acceptable - it is all ok. Nothing is wrong with the stream of thought. It is simply the human condition. Thus we learn to accept things as they are. The work is not so much with thought, but with the way we relate to thought or the attitudes we hold towards ourselves.
Mindfulness has a reflective quality, not an active one. That means that we learn to get in touch with our senses and this is done effortlessly, not through involvement with thinking.
Through cultivating this practice, we develop an acceptance which can be defined as coming to terms with the true reality of any given situation. Acceptance is the basis of compassion and compassion is the basis of real wisdom.
Mindfulness is a LIFESKILL which produces a different kind of human being, one who is awake to their experience. It is a faculty, which if worked on, will develop incrementally. What is required from us is a commitment to sustained and focused effort and daily practice.
Mindfulness will establish itself as part of who you truly are. The mere act of observing, changes the observed. We develop insight, awareness and acceptance by creating new conditions in our minds.
(Reference: Some key points taken from Rob Nairn on the 1 year Mindful Living Training).
What is important to realise at the outset is that Mindfulness is not something that you have to acquire - it is simply a reawakening of a deep internal resource you have had all along.
The Benefits of Training in Mindfulness:
Research studies have shown that even after an 8-week course, the following outcomes are noticed:
- An improved immune system boost to fight off illness.
- Participants report an increase in positive emotions.
- A reduction in Stress, Anxiety and Depression.
- It changes our brains by increasing gray matter in regions linked to learning, memory, emotional regulation and empathy.
- It helps us focus by tuning out distractions and improves attention skills.
- Fosters Compassion and altruism increasing activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others.
- Physical benefits include lowered blood pressure, improved sleep and overall better health.
- A reduction in ruminating and getting caught up in old habitual mind patterns that reactivate downward mood spirals.
- It helps us become intimately aware of the workings of mind and assists the cultivation of more self-compassion and self-regulation.
What proof is there really that it works?
Scientific research now established that the mind is more "plastic" than we originally assumed. By "plastic" we mean capable of transformation. Finding suggests that many qualities we regarded as relatively fixed, are now best regarded as the product of skills that can be enhanced through training.
Other Neuroscientists, using brain scans (see Sara Lazar's Ted Talk under resources section), have documented and shown that meditation actually changes the size for key regions of our brains, improving our memory and making us more compassionate, less reactive and more resilient under stress.
These studies reveal that due to the brain's plasticity that the brain can change based purely on mental training. This of course, has huge ramifications for mental practice and its impact on overall well-being. With just 8 weeks of practice it is possible to become more compassionate, more accepting, resourceful, calmer - it seems a little too good to be true. But with some effort, it is possible.
How do we cultivate mindfulness?
Simply by learning about this "muscle" in your mind that needs to be exercised and the ways it can be exercised, you've opened the doors to a whole new area of development.
I will encourage you to pay as much attention to the workings of your mind and the embodied experience of life, as you do to other things in life, and start opening up the possibility of a more balanced, fulfilling and purposeful existence.
Why does paying attention this way help us?
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of ruminative thinking, which causes us to become anxious and distressed.
We learn to simply see our thoughts as mental events that come and go - like a flowing stream - instead of taking each thought literally and mulling over it.
When you finally see that thoughts about being "no good" or "unlovable" etc ... are just that, thoughts - it becomes easier to take a step back and create space in the mind which enables us to disregard these mental events as ideas with no actual truth to them.
By disengaging from autopilot in our heads, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that we become more aware of ourselves, through our senses, emotions and mind states. We sidestep the cascade of mental events that draw us into rumination and lead to depression. Instead we learn to respond appropriately and become aware of our trigger moods.
Most importantly - the greatest benefit or outcome of the practice is that we stop trying to force and control our lives to be a certain way - we simply learn to accept, that life is as it is right now, in this moment. Our reactivity and ruminations are profoundly diminished. A sense of tranquility arises.
Jon Kabat-Zinn excerpt from latest article written in 2017:
“There has never been a better or more necessary time for all of us as human beings to wake up to our own collusion in the status quo, to the deep roots of self-centeredness and of subtle or not-so-subtle greed, hatred, and delusion within ourselves and our institutions, and to do what we can, being who we are, individually and collectively, for the sake of future generations as well as for our own—and even for ourselves as embodied individuals. Luckily, there is no essential separation between these. We only get this one moment, and this ever-so-brief human life to embody and live what we know and who we are, including the knowing of what we do not know—that is, to live our dharma as a radical act of sanity and love.
It seems to me that each one of us has a unique opportunity and a unique role to play in this unfolding, based on our love, our practice, and our unique karmic trajectory, grounded in our essential interconnectedness, non-separation, and com- mon humanity. At this moment on the planet, we need all the various and disparate voices participating in this conver- sation, and we need to listen to each other with open hearts and deep attending. If we cannot do that, how could we pos- sibly expect reconciliation across the greater divides of polit- ical and social animosity and active harming we are seeing enacted throughout the world today? This is the challenge and the promise of a democracy 2.0. This is the challenge of mind- fulness and heartfulness embodied. It is up to us.
The dharma of course, whether with a big BD^ or a little Bd,^ will take care of itself, as it always has. All we need to do is take care of what truly needs tending, with tenderness, and with resolve. And that is only everything.”
From the article: Too Early to Tell: The Potential Impact and Challenges—Ethical and Otherwise—Inherent in the Mainstreaming of Dharma in an Increasingly Dystopian World : Jon Kabat-Zinn (2017)