As we all know technology has made it easier than ever to fracture our attention into smaller and smaller bits. We answer our friends question from the stands, at a child’s football games on our cell phones, we pay the bills while watching a movie, we real the news on our smartphones while we are eating lunch with a friend. In a time when no one seems to have enough time, our devices allow all of us to be many places at once, however, at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we really want to be.
Mindfulness experts say we can do much better. At one level, the techniques that are associated with the philosophy are intended to help practitioners quiet a busy mind, becoming more aware of the moment at hand and less caught up in what happens earlier in the day, or what may come. There are many cognitive therapies recommended it to patients as a way to help cope with depression and anxiety. More broadly, it’s seen as a means to deal with our stress.
However, to view mindfulness simply as the new self-help fad underplays its potency and misses the big point of why it is gaining acceptance with those who might otherwise dismiss any mental training techniques closely tied to meditations, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and more.
If distractions is the preeminent condition of our energetic new age, then mindfulness, in the eyes of its enthusiasts, is the most logical response. It’s strength lies in its universality. Though meditation is considered an essential means to perhaps achieving mindfulness, the ultimate goal is simply to give our attention fully to what we are doing. One can work mindfully, parent mindfully and learn mindfully. One can exercise and even eat mindfully. One can even walk to the corner party store mindfully if one actually tried hard enough.
There are absolutely no signs that the forces splitting our attention into ever smaller slices will abate. However, on the contrary, they’re becoming stronger, as smartwatches and virtual-reality headsets are now arriving. Already, many devotees see mindfulness as an indispensable tool for coping both emotionally and practicing with the daily onslaught. The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin is not silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21 century.
MINDFULNESS GOES MAINSTREAM
Tim Ryan who is a Democratic congressman from Ohio, has been among the ones pushing to use more of the federal funds for mindfulness research. Stressed and exhausted, congressman Ryan attended a mindfulness retreat that was led by Kabat-Zinn in 2008 shortly after the election. Ryan turned over his two phones and ended the experience with a 36-hour period of silence. My mind became so very quiet, and I had the experience of my mind and my body actually being in the same place at the very same time, synchronized, Ryan said. I went up to Jon and said, Oh, man, we really need to study this, get it into our schools and our Healthcare System.
In the years since that day, the congressman has become a rock star among mindfulness evangelists. His book A Mindful Nation was published in 2012, and Mindful, launched in May 2013, put Ryan on the cover of its second issue after he secured a $1million federal grant to teach mindfulness in school in his district. Ryan has hosted a few meditation sessions and a mindfulness lecture series on Capitol Hill for the House members and their staffs. The effort, Ryan says, is all about, little candies getting lit under the Capitol dome.
Elizabeth Stanley, who is an associate professor at Georgetown, is trying to do the very same for those that are in uniform. Stanley was an Army intelligence officer that was deployed to the Balkans in the early 1990. After she had left active duty, she enrolled in a doctoral program at Harvard and pursued an MBA at MIT-at the same time, planning a career studying national-security issues.
However, as the demands of two graduate programs combined with leftover stress from her time deployed, Stanley found herself not able to cope. “I realized that my body and nervous system were constantly stuck high,” Stanley said. She underwent some therapy and started practicing yoga and mindful meditation, eventually completing both of her degree programs as well.
Educators are now turning to mindfulness with increasing frequency, l Personally believe it is a good thing taking into consideration how the digital technology is splitting our children attention span, the average American teen sends and receives more than 3,000 text messages a month. A bay Area based program that is called Mindful Schools offers online mindfulness training to our teachers, instructing them in how to equip children to concentrate in the classrooms and how to deal with stress.
Launched in 2007, this project has reached more than 3million pupils, and educators in more than 100 countries and all 50 states have taken its courses online. It was always my intention that mindfulness movie into the mainstream, KabatZinn says, whose MBSR bible, Full Catastrophe Living, that was published in 1990 and reissued in 2013. He has also been spreading the gospel abroad. On a trip to Beijing, KabatZinn helped lead a mindfulness retreat for about 250 Chinese students, scientists and monks. This is something that people are now finding compelling in many cultures and many countries, and the big reason is the science, he says.
The MBSR class that I took consisted of 21 hours of class time, and there was homework. One week, we were assigned to eat a snack mindfully and ” remember to inhale/exhale regularly ( and always with awareness!),” as a handout instructed. Since we were New Yorkers, another weekly’s assignment was to count our fellow passengers on the subway train. One of the students in my class said that he had a mindfulness breakthrough when he stopped listening to music and playing the games on his cell phone while riding to work. Instead, he was observed the surrounding people, which he said helped him be more present when he arrived at his office.
After eight weeks, we gathered one Saturday for a final exercise, a five-hour retreat. We brought food for our lunches, and after meditating and doing some yoga, we all ate together silently in a second-floor room that overlooks a park. After the lunch, Paulette led us into the park and told us to walk around for 30 minutes in a meditation practice that is known as aimless wandering. Absolutely no phones and no talking just be present she said.
As I was looking across a vast lawn, I easily spotted some of my fellow MBSR students. They all look like zombies weaving and wandering alone through groups of friends and families that was lounging on picnic blankets or barbecuing and talking. I saw a group of 20 something men playing Frisbee, a pair of women tanning in the sun, and young kids riding bikes.
I had lived close to this park for three years, and spent hundreds of hours exploring it however, what struck me as different on the day of the retreat was the sounds. I noticed the clip clip of a joggers sneakers going by on a paved path. Then I saw a few young people playing volleyball on the lawn, and for the very first time, I heard the game. Everything became more intense, the ball thudded when it hit the grass and wrapped when it was being served. The players grunted as they made contact. Thud, whap, whap. Whap, thud whap. Then I heard a soft jingling, and I knew exactly what it was, a dog with metal dog tags, came up behind me and passed by. Jingle, jingle.
After the prescribed half hour, we all returned to our meeting room with Paulette. We had a brief discussion as a group, about how we could continue our mindfulness training through other classes, and then we folded our chairs and put them away in the closet. Silently, we eased down a set of stairs and out the front door were. I made it all the way home before I turned that cell Phone on.
In the months since, I haven’t meditated a bunch, yet the course has had a small, but a profound impact on my life. I’ve started carrying my watch which has cut in half if not more time in a day that I look at my cell phone and risk getting stuck in to checking my email or the Web.
On a tip from one of my MBSR classmates, when I’m at a restaurant and a dining companion gets up to take a call or use the bathroom, I can now resist the urge to check Facebook on my cellphone. Instead, I usually become a people watcher. And when I walk outside, I now find myself listening to the soundtrack of the city and smelling the air. The rhythms, of course were always there. However, now they seem extremely richer and much more important.
Sisters and brothers, when we revolve with mindfulness, and not heaven the future or past entertaining our thoughts. Everything becomes more enhance with beauty, meaning, and appreciation. We begin to feel more alive, and we create moments of absolute magic. Being truly grateful for life in ways that we had never felt before.
May good health and prosperity be always with you.
Humbly yours Paul Earl.