Plus, Why Mindfulness is not a fad.
Simon Heale LCSP NRHP
Mindfulness Teacher and Coach
Open any magazine today and the chances are you’ll come across an article about mindfulness and how it is this phenomenon, which can help many areas of your life. Our ever-diminishing bookshops are stocked high with the latest ‘best-seller’ self-help mindfulness manuals covering areas from work to leadership to parenting.
Mindfulness has begun to be seen as a quick fix for any of a number of the distresses and ailments of today, and this is where my ever-so-sensitive hairs begin to quiver. The practice of mindfulness has been in existence for a rather long time, I would go so far as to say ever since mankind existed, and a great time before it was described as part of the Buddha’s teaching. In its simplest form the act of being mindful is no more than a process of enquiry: a step back to notice how we are at any moment. However, just noticing is primal, Step 1 which we can all attest to. The mindfulness as we experience it today has the added ingredient of a Step 2: to notice how we are with more helpful and flexible attitudes such as non-judgement, patience, curiosity and non-striving.
The plethora of articles, books, blogs and of course Youtube videos that exist now around mindfulness portray it as an answer or fix for anything from depression to obesity lets say. Some of this may have an evidential basis, but what I, or rather my hairs, feel needs addressing is the area of reaching a desired goal through mindful practice.
For me, and this lies at the heart of my teaching and practice, if you are ‘doing’ mindfulness to achieve an end goal, then you are strictly speaking not practicing mindfulness or being mindful. To truly notice and be with yourself at any moment requires doing so without needing to achieve anything. It’s an opportunity to let go of goals, to experience your experiences, whatever it is, with no agenda.
With an agenda or a desire you create a pressure or a stress, it may be so small you hardly notice, or it may build into a strong worrying feeling, and may also be something that is unmanageable or overwhelming. You either achieve it or you don’t, and with that comes a sense of success or failure, pleasure or disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, we do need goals, growth is an essential part of our development not just as individuals but also as a species. What mindfulness offers you is a pause…a moment to step back from the striving, to step off the tread-mill, for a moment as short or as long as you desire, where you can rest and observe your personal world as it is, in any moment, and without any sense of having to change anything, to be with whatever feelings, thoughts or sensations are present.
On the one hand the more that people are exposed to the possibility of being with our ‘stuff’ in a more healthy way, the better off we and society could be. But on the other hand if mindfulness continues to be promoted as a ‘fix’ then I fear it will lose its lustre and importance and return to its pre-packaged roots, only to be practiced by devotees and Buddhists. This would be a great loss to humanity. Mindfulness is a gift. It can help us all to be with all of our joys, our sadness, our pain, our anxiety, our stress, in fact with all of the intricacies that make us human. Not to fix anything, to change it to something more pleasant, but just to be with it. If we can do that more of the time then we give ourselves space to respond to our world and not to react. We will learn all of our triggers, our automatic reactions, we will recognise our top 10 thought patterns and judgements, and then we will cultivate the space to choose what happens next.
It was Viktor Frankl who said of his time in Auschwitz: “Between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Your first festive pressie is here: click this to get my “3 minute breathing space” audio clip. Save it or drag it into your playlist.
Pressie number two are these very simple and fun mindful practices:
- Just pay attention and notice your breathing when you wake up in the morning. Just follow your breaths, in and out, watch the breath. For 5 breaths. That’s all.
- Next, take time over preparing a drink, your first cup of the day perhaps, as if it’s the first time you’ve made it and tasted it.
- Try and savour a mouthful of food during a meal: noticing the texture, the temperature, smell, taste, reaction in your body.
Remember there is no goal to reach here, nothing to achieve, apart from exploring the quality of the beginners or childs mind. If during each practice or afterwards you notice you feel different, better even, then that’s great, but not the purpose. For each moment you are noticing your breath, food or body, you are simply not paying attention to your thoughts, your ‘stuff’, feelings and emotions. You have created a small buffer or space, allowing you not be overwhelmed or dominated by them.
Whatever your day holds for you, however you are feeling about things right now, the future or the past, by giving yourself momentary breaks or space at regular intervals, you may find that your experiences pan out differently or at least your responses to things are altered. What have you got to lose?
So with the festive season on its way I will leave you with cracking pressie number 3 that you wont lose amongst the detritus of the day:
Savour your food and you Eat less
Savour your drink and you Drink less
Savour your moments and you Live more.
Wishing you all a very peaceful festive holiday.
For more information on the MBSR 8 week programme and how to learn mindfulness in 2015 with Simon Heale please click here.
Simon also teaches the .b mindfulness course to children in schools, small private groups and on a 1-1 basis. He is a Mindfulness coach and teacher as well as a Sports and Remedial therapist, Director of Chelsea Natural Health Clinic and Corehealth Pilates and Treatment Suite.