Welcome to week two of Mindful March, where we look at definitions of mindfulness, some science behind it and how it can help you.
Hands up now, who could relate to the morning as described last week? From the second we open our eyes in the morning, we invite an overload of information in.
First thing, you have exposure to social media, news headlines, emails, filling yourself with quick a breakfast fix as opposed to really fueling yourself for the day ahead… When are you able to take a moment to connect with how you are really feeling and thinking in the present moment? And if you did, what difference would it make?
Mindful March: Autopilot
Our main default mode in this day and age is autopilot – we are not focusing on our current experience of life, we are not truly in touch with the here and now. This lack of connection leads to a multitude of side effects which we later get frustrated about: “Why can’t I remember where I put my keys?”, “Did I send that email draft off?” or “ I wish I hadn’t said that to them…”
Mindfulness is the opposite of autopilot mode: it is about experiencing the world firmly in the here and now. It puts us in a ‘being’ mode, rather than a ‘doing’ mode and offers a way of freeing us from automatic and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding. The word ‘respond’ is key here as it replaces an autopilot ‘reaction’. The latter is the one that leads to regret on many an occasion!
Mindfulness is a state of ‘being’ achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment or activity, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. I like to think of it as putting some space and silence in between those thoughts and feelings, a pause that allows us to take a step back from the intensity of them and see them for what they are – simply a ‘thought’, or a ‘feeling’.
It also encourages us to not define ourselves, or others, by emotions that we experience. Have you ever found yourself saying “Oh he is just an angry man” or “I am just an anxious person”? We unfairly label people or ourselves by habitual traits.
This does not give room or space to be anything much different from which we have been categorised. Mindful practice opens us up to accepting that thoughts and feelings come and go, and that in between them we have space to breathe, to simply be.
Mindful March: Can it really help?
It’s not a complicated answer, it’s ‘yes’. For those of you that need evidence, mindfulness is backed by science. The most interesting and dramatic research has come from the field of neuroscience.
A recently published study investigated the concentration of brain grey-matter in participants over an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (that’s MBSR to you and me). The study showed that after the eight weeks, there were significant increases in grey-matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. Now, who doesn’t like the sound of that?
So how do we do it? You will have to wait until next week for that bit. We will look at formal and informal practice of mindfulness and how to integrate it into your life. If you need some convincing that it is possible, then bear with, the proof will be in the mindful pudding.