Things just got real. In my last few columns, we looked at the different approaches to joy, each illustrating the many systems at play within us that continuously work behind the scenes to impact our experiences and capacity for happiness. While it's empowering to experiment with the different methods that indirectly influence our well-being, it takes moxie and perseverance to approach the mind head on, to really look at things as they are, instead of filtered through a lens of how we wish them to be. This is the illuminating path of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as a state of active open attention on the present, when one observes their thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Sounds easy, right? Close your eyes and try it. How long did you last before you realised that your mind had drifted elsewhere and that perhaps it's not quite equanimity you're feeling but irritation, or that you've in fact fallen asleep? I remember the first time I realised I had no control over my mind. I had decided to do a 10-day silent meditation retreat and through the course of the days found that my monkey mind wandered off much more than it was ever present. At times it felt like it was getting easier, but as soon as that thought entered my head, I realised I had just been distracted yet again.
So why is mindfuless important?
Well, the present is all we have. Sure, clinging to the past and dreaming about the future can feel rewarding, but ultimately, it becomes the cause of our worries because thinking about what has happened and what has yet to be will not change their outcome — which leaves us powerless. However, living with awareness in this moment, will.
When was the last time you needed a few minutes to check off that pesky red circle hanging over your Facebook app, only to find yourself still scrolling through an hour later?
How to get started
Fortunately, there are many methods and means for us to practise mindfulness and not all of them involve sitting cross-legged on the floor with our eyes closed. You can even start right now on your own and try to observe your thoughts without attachment. When you get distracted, which you will, you simply start again.
If you would prefer voice guidance and don't have the time to commit to classes, there are heaps of apps available on your smartphone that offer a range of mindfulness meditations. Just sit up right, tune in, and follow the instructions. I highly recommend the Headspace app which describes itself as a gym membership for the mind. It clearly explains and illustrates the practise of mindfulness and offers a range of programmes to take on, beginning with a free course of ten classes for ten minutes a day. The Stop, Breathe & Think app is great for shorter meditations, the guiding female voice has one of the most soothing voices I've ever heard. A way to support and encourage your growing practice is to keep a meditation journal and write down some of the thoughts and epiphanies that could occur when navigating your deep inner world.
If you do better with hands on guidance and group settings, outside of the Buddhist tradition, one of the most established and well researched secular mindfulness programs is known as the MBSR program. Developed in 1979 by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer and authority on mindfulness as a means of stress reduction (MBSR stands for Mind Based Stress Reduction), he developed a programme of eight sessions plus daily home assignments and an all-day session for attendees. During each weekly two-hour session, participants are guided through various types of meditation practice, including sitting and walking meditation and forms of yoga.
I spoke to Han Ee, founder of Emerge Performance, a performance psychologist and one of the handful of qualified mindfulness instructors in this region.
What would you say to people who say they can't sit still to meditate?
If you can't sit still, consider meditation practices that incorporates movement such as mindful yoga, walking meditation or even mindful eating, to generate momentum in building a personal and regular practice. That said, the intention of the meditation practice is not to simply find something that is comfortable but learning to be fully engaged in the moment.
Who should practise mindfulness?
Anyone who wants to live life to the fullest should practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is fundamentally about minding our attention and focus on what is unfolding in the present moment. This is a universal ability that all humans share, regardless of age or gender.
Why did you decide to become trained in this method?
There is something powerful, yet humbling, about facilitating the mindfulness journey of a fellow human being. Witnessing their growth through life makes this worthy of a life's work.
What are the top three benefits of mindfulness training? Are there any negative outcomes?
1. Joy released from the capacity to simply be ourselves.
2. Clarity of our own voice and intention amidst an environment of information overload.
3. Resilience to bounce back from setbacks & thrive under pressure
Negative outcomes? None so far!
Next week, we explore alternative therapies that are as fun as they are beneficial. To view more stories in The Joy Series, click here.