I'm Failing at Mindfulness
I sit cross-legged in a slouched posture that would make any yogi cringe. Eyes closed, I tell myself to focus on my breath and to empty my mind of everything else. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. The sounds from the Irish streets below slowly begin to creep in. Ambulance sirens wail. School children laugh. Birds flapping their wings high above the River Lee. No - I tell myself - focus on the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. I wonder if it will rain later? Exhale. Inhale. This is Ireland. So yeah, probably. Exhale. Hmm, coffee sounds really good. Inhale. Is that a dog? Exhale. Great, my foot is now asleep. Inhale. Exhale. Hey self, remember that time in 1995 when that boy was mean to me on the bus? This is the perfect time to think about that.
And alas, another failed attempt at mindful meditation. Although I did make it through this time without falling asleep. So why do I bother?
Walk past any newsstand and many of the newspapers, health magazines, and psychology journals will highlight the surge of interest in mindfulness. With more and more Americans reporting an increase in stress, many are turning towards alternative practices to combat that stress. Several practices cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga and tai chi, but mindful meditation is a mindset that continues when you step off the mat. And better yet, it can be practiced anywhere. Despite rapidly gaining interest in our society, it is not a new fad. Mindful mediation has been in practice for thousands of years. But what is it and where did it come from?
Mindfulness is a unique way of approaching the world each day, and is defined by, a conscious effort to embody an active attention to the present moment. It acknowledges that breath is the link between the body and the mind. Furthermore, it is not only bringing awareness to the presence, but it is also noticing and what is happening right now without judgement or reaction. It's accepting. It's forgiving.
This mindfulness mediation is rooted in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is generally responsible for introducing the mindfulness concept in America in a widespread and scientific manner. Dr. Kabat-Zinn studied the religious practices and later integrated their teachings with medical science. His adaptations were secular by design, but aimed to prove that mindfulness can be a beneficial and effective practice in its own right. With this understanding, his goal was to take this wisdom and knowledge and apply it to potential health benefits.
In the 1980s, Dr. Kabat-Zinn taught mindful meditation at the University of Massachusetts medical school to people suffering from chronic pain. He offered once a week courses for eight weeks and later published studies showing that the practice of mindfulness reduced chronic pain more effectively than traditional treatment alone.
Other studies have since concluded many psychological and mental benefits of mindfulness such as:
- Stress reduction
- Boost working memory
- Increased focus
- Less emotional reactivity
- Reduced rumination
- Enhancing self-insight
- Better relationships
Yet, this rise of mindfulness is not met without critics. But in a time where there is more movement towards mental health awareness, why not incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives? Think of a physical cut. If you suffer a deep cut to your hand, your hand begins to bleed. As a response, your body releases clotting factors to congeal the blood and stop the bleeding. The skin slowly starts to repair itself and eventually the wound will heal over. All of this happened without any of your own conscious efforts. But the same does not hold true for emotional pain.
Which is why I believe it's important that we spend more time and effort to cultivate an environment of positivity within our own minds. Mindfulness (is attempting) to teach me to be aware of my thoughts and, in turn, it will enable me to be in control of my actions. We remove ourselves from the haze of being on autopilot and reactive. I can recall many days where I can hardly remember what I did and didn't do because I was hastily onto the next task. Did I turn off the iron? Did I sign that report? Did I send that mail?
I want more clarity in my day-to-day life. With a cleared insight to our thoughts and emotions, we become aware of what means we need to seek in order to find content and happiness within our daily lives. I believe with more mindfulness, we can create a culture of wellness within ourselves. We can rise and meet stress with a stronger mindset.
Until then, I'll be over here trying to be undistracted by the ambulance sirens, weather, dogs, coffee, and a half-asleep foot, because slowing down the world a bit doesn't sound too bad to me.
Are you interested in joining me in exploring and adopting mindfulness? Next week I will share ways to easily begin incorporating mindfulness into daily routine.
Malinda Meadows is an Ohio native who was letting grief blanket her life.
She found healing through traveling and nature. She discovered changes of location led to changes in her mindset. It helped her process grief and forge a new path with greater optimism and happiness. Realizing the benefit of deliberate change, she now leads a more balanced and mindful life inspired by simple changes.
She blogs regularly at malindainthesnow.com to help others find change, however small, outside their box in order to live a happier, healthier life.