Janet Street-Porter gave her views on ‘Mindfulness’ meditation in the Daily Mail this week. At the risk of ‘outing’ my love of a good trashy read when I’m drinking my coffee first thing in the morning, I was caught by the title: ‘Can Mindfulness really make you Live longer’?
It caught my eye as ‘mindfulness’ is a term which is increasingly quoted on public forums. As a concept, it’s taken on a life of its own and it’s bandied about by psychologist, therapists, government bodies, NHS and celebrities alike. From a training perspective, mindfulness as a subject has started to dominate the training space and it’s a course that we are increasingly being asked for.
What does mindfulness mean though? If you ask a selection of people you’ll probably get a huge variety of responses. I’ve had a go at breaking it down into some of the key uses of the term 'mindfulness' on public forums. Hopefully this article will help you to appreciate the direction from which people may be coming when discussing this topic.
Mindfulness as a Meditation Tool
In the article, Janet Street-Porter has a go at using mindfulness as a meditation tool. Apparently, using mindfulness in meditation can ‘reduce stress’ and potentially help you live longer. Ruby Wax and others are fervent followers of this technique and suggest that it is has helped them to overcome issues such as depression and anxiety.
Danny Penman, an author on the subject, states that ‘to practice mindfulness…a person must focus on what is happening inside their body and mind in real time’. This practice is known as ‘full conscious awareness’.
It seems that this technique is open to us all and that it can be done in just one minute per day. By regularly sitting still in a chair, focusing on your breath, and bringing your attention back to your breath each time it wanders, you can generate an inner calmness. It won’t happen overnight, but even fleeting senses of ‘stillness’ are valuable.
This sounds great, but I don’t know many people who would realistically have the patience to dedicate to this. A good website for those that are interested however is www.franticworld.com/what-is-mindfulness.
Mindfulness as Living in the Moment
Mindfulness is also used as a technique to help people actively ‘live more in the moment’. This technique is active rather than meditative and encourages individuals to focus on perceptions as part of their active day. If they find themselves worrying about potential future problems, historic stresses etc. then are required to refocus attentions back to the ‘here and now’ using techniques such as ‘the cloud technique’ to dispel negativity.
How does this work? Essentially, individuals imagine their worries and anxieties as clouds passing overhead. They recognise them and then visualise them dissipating and moving on – as such, helping to banish them from their minds. Individuals must also be open to positive events too. If something worthy happens, then recognise and consider it, even something as small as the smile of a passerby.
Mindfulness in the Training World
When we are not ‘mindful’ we become ‘mindless’, living in a world of pre-established habits, behaviours and categories. Small changes and positive events may happen, but if we are mindless then we fail to recognise them; purely living on through pre-established rules and codes.
Although, within a business training capacity, mindfulness training can take many shapes and forms (including that of meditation and active mindfulness), in essence we help individuals to think about the way in which ‘mindlessness’ restricts our realities to the constructs which have been borne in our mind through years of habit and social shaping. If something doesn’t fit within our entrenched realities and categories, then we simply filter them out; hence missing out on the rich potential that life has to offer.
Through our training courses, we help people to understand the way in which are thoughts, actions and behaviours are constructed, the way in which these constructs may rigidly dictate our actions (even if the action taken isn’t the best action to take) and the way in which we may fail to perceive and learn from events taking place around us.
The training encourages people to be more sensitive to their environment, to welcome new information, to appreciate that there are many different perspectives in problem solving, in working together and in achieving successful outcomes. It encourages people to be mindful of the perspectives from which their colleagues and counterparts are coming and not to assume they are ‘wrong’ merely because they are approaching something from a different angle.
Within a cultural awareness training perspective, ‘mindfulness’ of one’s own cultural frameworks is an essential prerequisite to engaging in cultural training. How can we appreciate the cultural nuances of our peers if we can’t perceive how we ourselves are the product of such constructs?
Take for example an individual who would fall entirely under our ‘mindless’ label. As an extreme case, this individual perceives the world entirely as their experience of it. If people don’t behave and act within their own sense of reality then they are there purely to be tolerated and perhaps overlooked. In essence they deny themselves the rich reality of the world around us and they shun the opportunity to learn from an international human experience. Within the work place, it is possible that they operate within isolated frameworks for problem solving and see no benefit in doing things differently. Equally, they are likely to be irritated by people who do things differently to themselves; finding it harder to find synergy with their colleagues to arrive at positive outcomes.
By being mindful therefore, we appreciate these differences, we welcome them and are able to tune into the perspectives of those around us who may do things differently. Mindful people don’t just rely on the spoken word to do this, they attend entirely to the context to really appreciate what is happening. They are more likely to understand and empathise with the person with whom they are interacting and hence respond appropriately. For a mindful person, life is also more likely to be something that we learn from – developing new ways of doing things; leaving behind the ‘old’ and welcoming innovation and progress.
Bringing them Together
Relevant to all these key practices / interpretations of ‘mindfulness’ is ‘living in the moment’, being aware and conscious of ourselves and our impact on those around us. Adherents to all three of the practices outlined above would undoubtedly agree that you shouldn’t be lost in the past, anxious about what has already happened or worrying about what might happen in the future. Live for the present and be fully aware of what is happening around you. Hone into the good things that happen and leave yourself wide open to new experiences, people and viewpoints. Take the positives from situations and learn from those who might be doing things in a better way. And critically, remember at all times, that we are all products of our past and habits. Challenge the way you think and check that your thinking patterns aren’t holding you back and preventing you from growing and learning from those around you.