MINDLESSNESS OR MINDFULNESS?
By GARY DOOLEY.
I know a woman who visits her elderly mother several times each day, and since her journey is short she may walk or drive depending on her fancy. Recently she told me how her mother casually enquired how she got there that day and after struggling to recall she walked to the window to see if her car was outside.
If you have never filled a diesel car with petrol, discovered your TV remote in the fridge, or found yourself in a room unable to remember why you went there then you are one of the few who can claim immunity to such mindlessness, though I cannot. I have searched in vain for items lying in full view less than two feet in front of me, found keys in places I would never put them and drank cups of coffee without any memory of the event.
Welcome to mindlessness, where our attention has left on the breeze of illusory thinking, no longer centred in the reality of present moment experiences.
We mindlessly eat, drive, shower and dress while thinking where we have been or where we are going, what we should have said or what we’ll say in future. While such thoughts are necessary we should also be mindful that every moment spent mesmerised by this trance of non presence is precious time in which life’s rainbows and sunsets pass by unnoticed.
Beguiled by images with no reality beyond thinking we become blissfully desensitised to the present and seduced by receding shadows of the past or images of a future which may never exist beyond imagination. Worries are past or future related images which, by definition, must be unreal. Yet despite knowing this we continue to let vivid catastrophic illusions captivate our attention like spellbound children at a magic show.
Mindfulness on the other hand dispels the unreal images of non present thought, empowering a higher awareness in which problems seem less important, insights ripen and solutions begin to glow like approaching lights on a dark and distant horizon.
There is now a rapidly growing awareness of the health benefits associated with mindfulness due to the abundance of reliable research confirming the essential role it plays in healing and general well being. Researchers at Stanford University in California comparing hundreds of relaxation methods found clear evidence that mindfulness is twice as effective as any other form of relaxation while scientific studies indicate that people who meditate daily experience 50% less hospital visits and 70% fewer cases of heart related illnesses.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised since the meaning of the word meditation originates from the Latin word mederi, meaning to heal.
Knowing about something and practicing it are not the same because doing what we know is not as easy as knowing what to do and our mind is not accustomed to us asking it to be still.
Finding time for mindfulness in what is already a very busy schedule makes sense in theory but in reality requires a lot of effort, though happily there is a way to seamlessly internalise this unfamiliar activity until we can establish it as a daily resource.
Instead of trying to find extra time in a busy day to practice mindfulness, we could leave our daily routine as it is and change how we do what we already do to include mindfulness.
Put simply, instead of trying to set aside extra time for mindfulness we could incorporate it into whatever we would routinely be doing anyway. For example everyone has to eat; it’s not an optional activity yet eating provides an excellent opportunity to establish mindfulness by linking it to an existing and essential event we must do at least once every day.
With this in mind you may find value in the following technique:
4 Steps to a Mindful Mealtime.
- Pause before you begin to eat and notice what is on your plate. Notice the colours, smells and texture of the food in front of you.
- For the next five minutes commit to chew each mouthful at least 30 times before you swallow it. The process of counting holds your attention in the present and prevents your mind from wandering onto past/future related thoughts. This is also provides an excellent way to ensure your food is effectively processed before it is swallowed.
- Put down your fork between each mouthful as this will slow down any unconscious inclination to eat quickly. Many of us eat too quickly because our unconscious mind picks up on the fact that our fork is loaded and waiting in our hand.
- Avoid watching television or answering the phone while you eat. This is extremely important because both will quickly direct your attention elsewhere and you may find yourself eating more quickly as a result of what you hear and see.
We don’t have to live in a cave in the Himalayas for ten years to learn mindfulness or enjoy the associated benefits to our health and wellbeing. The above strategy can be applied to any daily routine though it will be especially beneficial when applied to eating since it cultivates a slower eating style and a raised awareness of being full which will prove particularly helpful to anyone trying to lose weight.
Some of us will need no help establishing mindfulness as a habit yet for many of us our promises and good intentions are too frequently lost in the daily scramble for our time and attention. Linking mindfulness to something we must do anyway such as eating, driving, showering, or dressing simply offers us an easier and natural way to cultivate what may be the healthiest and most beneficial habit of all.
About the Author:
Gary Dooley is the founder of Life Balance UK and author of:
Change Your Life and Keep the Change Published by John Hunt books.