Changing Your Mindfulness…
Changing Your Mind…fullness…
It’s the new buzzword. But is it just the latest fad in the industrial scale self-help industry, or are we being hoodwinked into buying into something that’s been around for a very long time?
It’s being touted as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR for short. Another tool in an already overstocked box; NLP, CBT, EMDR, EFT, TFT and so on. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist at MIT, is claiming to be the inventor of MBSR and in the United States (where else?) there are now over 1,000 registered (with whom?) MBSR instructors. Now it’s arrived in the UK and like all these ‘new’ ways of thinking it’s spreading like a virus through the alternative/complimentary therapy world.
Mindfulness cannot be claimed to be entirely new however because by its own admission, much of its techniques are based on good old fashioned meditation. Mindfulness convinces us to concentrate on one thing at a time, preferably to the exclusion of any other distractions. For example, there’s the raisin test, which is all about being aware of the history of the solitary raisin, it’s growing on the vine, the ripening of the grape, the weeks of sunshine and goodness in the soil, the drying out process, and finally, the savouring of the taste, slowly, deliberately.
So a bit like the techniques employed by hypnotherapists then. Any hypnotherapist worth their salt will get the subject to use their imaginations to literally see the harm cigarettes do to their systems; the thick grey smoke percolating down the back of your throat, staining your lungs, poisoning your body, and then how advantageous it will be to give up and how much better it feels when you stop.
Mindfulness teaches the individual to focus on the good things, to find a quiet and peaceful place in an otherwise hectic mind – another direct similarity with hypnosis and a host of other talking therapies. It’s a simple and easily available way of dealing with stress. So it’s just like hypnosis – without the hypnosis.
Mindfulness seems to be a panacea for … everything! You can live every detail of your life more mindfully – everything in fact, from the way you study, the way you enjoy your game of tennis, to the way you bring up your children. You really can do everything more mindfully. Sounds great. But hold on a minute… doesn’t this just mean that you train yourself to pay more attention to the things in life that are important and enjoy them more? That’s no bad thing of course, but I’m now very suspicious we’re being sold a line. And already I’m beginning to suspect that individuals who embrace Mindfulness are going to be irritating. In the US, Chase Manhattan Bank advises customers to spend ‘mindfully.’ Next they’ll be telling customers not to spend more than they can afford!
Whatever the merits or otherwise of MBSR, the average course lasts for eight weeks and straight away, my suspicious mind wants to explore the possibility that this could be another money making scheme, the latest in a series of cash cows that prey on vulnerable people looking for answers.
Just like meditation, students are instructed to concentrate on their breathing, ridding their consciousness of the travails and tribulations of life. Mindfulness seems rooted in Eastern philosophy, Buddhism and Western slick marketing. It’s proponents, including the great Kabat-Zinn himself studiously avoid any mention of spirituality. Kabat-Zinn, he say, think of your attention as a muscle – like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised to be strengthened. (I remember we were told something very much like this at school, something along the lines of the more you organize your study, the easier it will be.) Mindfulness is beginning to have the unmistakable odour of New Agey nonsense about it.
Even so, Mindfulness may not a bad thing. One should be mindful of the important things in life. It’s healthy to embrace the beauty of life and sensible to give due attention to life’s important things. On the other hand, something that is touted as a cure-all must be treated with a certain amount of skepticism. We all get stressed, at work and at home, but that’s part of life! A little stress from time to time keeps us on our toes – another good thing.
It’s all about finding a balance. There is a very credible body of research, which suggests that multitasking lowers overall productivity (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations explored this idea in the 19th century.) Workers who switch from one task to another have less ability to filter out irrelevant information. They are also more likely to make mistakes. Many people these days do not avail themselves of the luxury of regular breaks and overwork leads to tiredness, confusion and burnout. It’s a non-stop world in big business. After all, money never sleeps, so why should those who are trying to make more of it?
There are hundreds of Mindfulness and meditation Apps available on the Internet. Meditation is proved beyond doubt to reduce stress and increase focus – so does hypnosis and self-hypnosis. For that matter, so do moments of quiet reflection. But the process is remarkably simple, even though it takes discipline to find the time.
Mindfulness and meditation follow the same route; step one is to sit upright and concentrate on your breathing, focusing your attention on the air going in and out of your lungs. At the same time, acknowledge the thoughts that pop into your mind but try to continue focusing on your breathing. Don’t consciously try to ignore distractions, rather accept your mind has wandered and refocus on your breathing. Finally, do this for a few minutes every day for a week. The more you meditate this way, the easier it becomes. Practice establishes technique, practice makes perfect!!
In 1979, Kabat-Zinn got his Ph.D. and started working at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It was while he was there that he took part in a weekend retreat and had his epiphany and he immediately started to experiment with the possibility that Buddhist based meditation could help people suffering from chronic pain, by refocusing their attention so they could reduce their overall suffering. Which is exactly what hypnotherapists teach their clients to do!
Kabat-Zinn’s patients experienced significant reductions in pain levels which in turn helped them cope better with their illnesses, which proves what hypnotherapists have been saying for more than a hundred years – a bit of relaxation and focus does you good! All you have to do is remember to do it. It’s not new, but it is absolutely FREE to anyone who wants to try it. Mindfulness is just another word for Awareness – you can enjoy the rhythm of the city as much as the sounds of the surf breaking on the beach.
The bottom line? Mindfulness, or Awareness, or whatever you want to call it just takes a little self discipline, just like anything else in life. Just take a moment to focus…