It’s been really interesting watching the explosion of Mindfulness over the last few years, I don’t know about Mindfulness it’s been almost mind dazzling! it’s gone from the book on the self-help bookshelf and week-end workshop, to the workplace, the school, even into mainstream health care including the NHS and Parliament.
So what is it? It is, according to a recent report by the BBC, defined as the following –
“ The word “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere. Parliament has even started using it. But what is it?
To many people, mindfulness just means “the state or quality of being mindful”. That’s the first definition the Oxford English Dictionary lists.
But the second meaning of the word, taken from Buddhist philosophies, is proliferating rapidly. Search Amazon’s book section and you’ll see many titles about mindfulness and how to get it. A quick search of a database of British newspapers shows that in April 2004 it was mentioned just twice. In April this year, the figure was 150.
This other definition of mindfulness is “with reference to yoga philosophy and Buddhism: the meditative state of being both fully aware of the moment and of being self-conscious of and attentive to this awareness; a state of intense concentration on one’s own thought processes; self-awareness”.
A part of BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer questions behind the headlines But the dictionary also notes that the term is “in weakened use”. It’s been diluted from its origins to now encompass all manner of meditation techniques, treatments for daily stress, even ways to lose weight. The word is everywhere. An all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness will be launched on 7 May, city workers are said to be adopting it and even theNHS offers information about how to practise it.”
I first came across Mindfulness in my teenage years through some simple Yoga introductory practice, but honestly didn’t know it as such back then. I then came across it through some basic “Learn how to meditate” classes in the 1990’s when I was living in Cambridge and then explored it more deeply as part of my Shamanic Training, which to be fair was based a lot on the Toaist philosophies and traditions. I have to say at this point just to be clear, I have always remained rather on the Spiritual as opposed to the Religious path. For further clarity it is important to also note that Mindfulness as it is generally written about and taught in the west for use in the workplace, schools and health system is totally stripped of any religious biased and is totally about simply centring the mind and body to relieve stress and to become present in the moment.
More recently I’ve found myself giving short talks and exercises as part of evening workshops or groups. For me it is the heart and the tip of the iceberg of meditation. It is the place of being and learning to be present. It is the place to let go, to stop, to ground, to be and to centre. In our seemingly frenetic modern lifestyles it is becoming more and more essential to embrace this practice.
I was shown to me by life and frankly quite brutally, that when we are not centred, when we don’t stop, when we aren’t present or cannot just be, we cannot then do, discern, choose, stand firm or act. It is one of these amazing dynamics of life that if we are not still at times then our movement becomes unbalanced. It is in many ways our night to our day, our inner to our outer.
For some reason this stillness and this being and this inner work has been something that has if not actively then certainly steadily been discouraged from our western societies for a long-time. Too much focus placed on the outer world and its appearances, our outward achievements and standing. This imbalance in many ways has caused a lot of stress, destruction and misuse of resources and in some cases caused illness. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that now the balance has to be restored and this simple, not to be confused with easy, practice of Mindfulness is becoming so popular.
As with everything that becomes popular or a household term there are always those for whom it does not work or has caused difficulties, this is natural as we are all unique. There have been accounts about how Mindfulness where it has been apparently detrimental or has actually caused people to become unstable in someway. There have been reports were people have found they have begun to feel too zoned out, suffered panic attacks, depression or traumatic memories from their childhood return following a Mindfulness course or session.
Speaking from personal experience, it is true that these practices open us up to ourselves and sometimes the effects can be traumatic and life changing. It is essential that if this happens, the process is held and what is coming up is embraced and understood rather than run from or shut down. It is importantly to understand that it is not necessarily the meditation itself that is at fault but it is actually simply allowing space for what was already stored within us to surface. If it hadn’t come out in this way, then it would surely come out in some other way in that person’s life. In many ways by having these issues, whatever they are come to the surface in this way it is an opportunity for the person to fully face them and move beyond them.
None of us ever choose to be ill, or at least we don’t choose it consciously. So when either illness comes or uncomfortable emotions are stirred we are unlikely to welcome them and we are even less likely to want to make time for them; or have to change our way of life for them. However, if you ever find yourself as the “unfortunate few” where this does occur for you, here are some basic pointers you may find helpful;
- Firstly ground – feel your body, feel your breath, be very present about where you are. Perhaps eat something nutritious, go for a walk in nature, even if this is just a pocket park or tree lined boulevard for the city dwellers among us.
- If you are likely to feel spaced out when meditating, only do it for a short while a day. 10 mins a day rather than leaping into an intensive workshop or week-ender. In many ways this is about you growing your internal muscles, just like going down to the gym, you don’t do a 10 miler on the first day!
- Keep well hydrated. De-hydration can make us feel spaced out and when we are stressed we don’t always realise how de-hydrated we are.
- Simplify your life. Start to live and think more simply.
- If you wish to keep up a meditation practice, up your vitamin, mineral and nutrition intake, if you are taking in rubbish, when you stop and listen to yourself inside you are likely to find rubbish!
- What-ever has surfaced needs facing and transmuting. Depending on what’s coming up for you, it might be time to get some counselling, and learn some techniques on how to face and transmute and let go of those bad feelings or memories.
- You might find a physical meditation practice is better for you – tai chi, qigong, yoga or even simple activities like gardening, walking or cycling. Or a creative one; drawing, writing, or cooking. Or if it’s anger or confidence issues try a martial art class, to focus and transmute the energy into a punch bag rather than into a person or your life! You can be Mindful in how you do all or any of these activities.
Mindfulness is all about being present, centred and in the body. If any of us is struggling with that, it is because there is something getting in the way, that something needs to be understood and then it can be let go of or addressed. We can shift from habitual reacting to pro-active living.
“Breathing in I establish myself in the present moment. Breathing out I know that this is a wonderful moment”. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thich Nhat Hanh, writes beautifully about the power of the present moment, for this is all we truly have at any one time, in his book “The Power of Now”.
Above all, be gentle and kind with yourself, but don’t run and hide. Be honest and be courageous, this is about you getting to know you, to centre in being you and can help you let go of the internal “rubbish”, so you can be a clearer and brighter you!