“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” Viktor Frankl
Mindfulness has been getting a lot of attention with good reason. There has been more and more research on the effects of practicing mindfulness and these studies underline the many benefits it brings. These include improved focus, concentration and precision; greater emotional wellbeing; less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences; improved ability to manage depression, anxiety and stress more effectively; improved physical wellbeing (reduced blood pressure, higher immune function, reduction in physical stress responses); increased resilience to change; improved ability to deal with relationship stress more constructively; lower stress response during conflict and the ability to communicate better during conflict; improved management of chronic pain; and improved quality of sleep.
Everyone has experienced moments of mindlessness; when we have driven a distance and realized afterwards how fortunate it is that we can still brake at red lights even when our attention is elsewhere. Mindfulness is the opposite. Mindfulness is the intentional non-judgmental paying attention to the minute details of everyday experience. It is not easy because our minds are used to going a mile a minute, so this definitely requires practice. Many mindfulness exercises focus on the breath because this is the simplest and most accessible way to train your mind to pay attention but some mindfulness exercises include movement or everyday activities. With mindfulness we practice letting go of our thoughts, feelings and impulses and staying instead with the simplicity of the breath or whatever else we have chosen as our focus. With practice we become better at calming and slowing down our minds and as our perceptions expand we start to notice things more clearly and we become less reactive or impulsive.
Important Factors in effective Mindfulness Practice
- Non-judging: Mindfulness is cultivated by assuming the stance of an impartial witness to your own experience. To do this requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences that we are normally caught up in and how we learn to step back from them. Becoming aware of these automatic judgments helps us to see through our prejudices and fears and liberate ourselves from them. All that is required is to be aware that it is happening. When you notice your mind judging, you don’t have to stop it from doing that (i.e.: do not judge the judging) just notice it.
- Patience: Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, we cannot rush this process. It is important to be patient with our judging, our fears or our agitation; we must also be patient if we have been practicing for a time and nothing positive seems to be happening. Patience gives us the room to have these experiences. We are having them anyway, so why rush through some moments just to get to “better” ones?
- Beginner’s mind: Try and look at things as if we are seeing them for the first time which helps us to stop perceiving things only through what we already know. The “beginner’s mind” allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and understandings.
- Non-striving: Humans have a productive tendency – we always seem to being dong things for a purpose. This tendency gets in the way when we are practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness has no goal other than for you to be yourself.
- Acceptance: Acceptance is the willingness to see things as they are; it is the openness to whatever we are thinking, feeling or seeing because it is here right now. It does not mean that you have to like everything or take a passive attitude towards everything. Openness does not mean abandoning one’s principles or values.
- Letting go: Letting go or non-attachment is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness. When we start paying attention to our inner experience we quickly observe how there are certain thoughts, feelings or situations that the mind wants to hold onto. In spite of all of our intelligence, our minds get caught up in either trying to elevate some experiences and/or preventing others. Mindfulness teaches us to intentionally put aside the tendency to do this and instead let our experience be whatever it is. We simply observe our experience moment to moment without judging it as desirable or disagreeable.
Practice mindfulness and you are guaranteed to get more out of your life. You may find some of the examples we have posted on our website helpful to guide you. If you are having trouble calming your mind, give us a call and we will be happy to help you.
Written by: Shawna Atkins, Ph.D., OPQ.