21 Sep Not Just the Digital Revolution… A Mindfulness Revolution
It’s clear from the mainstream media headlines that a mindfulness revolution – not just a digital revolution – is well underway. The two revolutions seem, in fact, to be inter-related, with the digital revolution necessitating the mindfulness revolution.
According to an article that appeared in The Guardian, ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia, research shows people “touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day…. There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention’, severely limiting people’s ability to focus.”
In her Washington Post column, Carolyn Hax advised a reader to tell her distracted husband, “Devices are killing us. Put it down and be present.” And a study conducted by psychologists at Harvard concluded people “spend 46.9 per cent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.”
Mindfulness is now regularly featured in a New York Times column that offers practical wisdom on topics like being mindful at your desk.
Despite the mainstream media coverage, people continue to ask, “What is mindfulness?”
Mindfulness is an open, receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. In the age of digital overload, mindfulness and meditation are potent ways to re-claim what is arguably our most precious asset – our attention.
“When you eat, just eat. When you walk, just walk.”
– Jack Kornfield, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book
When we are mindful, we focus our attention on the experience of the present moment – on our breath, our sensory experiences, the thoughts and feelings that are arising and subsiding, and on what’s happening right now. And we pay attention in a particular way – with kindness and without judgement.
As we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and as we observe our own habitual responses, we become free of them, and free to choose a different response.
Everything is an Opportunity for Mindfulness Practice
On the way to my coffee shop a few days ago, I stopped to talk with another Yoga practitioner, a doctor, who remarked that knitting had become her mindfulness practice. As she talked about the lush quality of the yarn, the repetition, how she enjoys making different complex patterns, it became clear how knitting draws this self-described scientist into the present moment.
At my table overlooking Broadway, I perused academic articles on mindfulness, noting this interesting fact: cancer patients who participated in mindfulness research scored higher in mindfulness at the beginning of the study than other populations. It’s likely cancer and other illnesses which require people to pay attention to sensations in their bodies and a whole host of feelings, are pathways to more presence.
At the next table, a father told his young son who was having a melt-down, “Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.“ When that recommendation only caused the child to scream louder, the father put his arm around him and held him quietly, providing the calm energy and the “holding,” the loving embrace he needed in that moment.
In a similar way, when we practice mindfulness, we accept and hold all of our feelings, including the gnarly ones, in our own awareness. Often this simple act of being aware of our feelings – of witnessing them without reacting – causes them to transmute.
Why We Need Regular Practice
According to Dr. Richard Davidson, Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, meditation and mindfulness practices can help us cultivate not only more presence, but also a greater sense of wellbeing, more compassion and more resilience. However, unless we embrace meditation and mindfulness practices regularly, we are likely to default to our habitual reactions and responses when things don’t go our way.
Fortunately we can start to experience the benefits of practice quickly. Students often tell me, after only a few weeks of meditation practice, that their whole day felt off when they didn’t do their morning meditation. And Harvard researchers have reported changes in the brain after just 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation practice.
The Best Meditation or Mindfulness Practice
As for which meditation or mindfulness practice is the best one, as many have noted, the best practice is the one you will do.
Please feel free to call me to explore bringing the basics of meditation and mindfulness in to your workplace or for an individual session. We’ll experiment and see what works for you.