It was Jayson, one of my close friends who told me this funny incident recently. When he wanted to make a call urgently to a colleague, he looked for his mobile. But it was not seen. He searched it every nook and corner of the house, but could not find it. He asked his wife and children to search for it. They also joined him in the frantic search for the phone. But, they also failed to locate it. As a last attempt, he dialed from his land phone, expecting to hear the ring tone. But, alas! no ring tone was heard. So he thought that it was lost somewhere else.
Then instinctively his wife asked him; ‘Did you search it in your car?”
Suddenly he rushed to his car and luckily found his phone inside. It was a great relief for his anxiety.
Such incidents are quite common in our lives. Why do such things happen frequently? It is merely a failure of attention. Most of the time, our minds simply wander here and there without paying attention to what we are doing. This habit of mechanical actions without awareness creates so many problems and chaos in one’s life. But, there is a very powerful and effective way to train your mind to pay attention to what you are doing, what you see, hear, smell taste or feel. Like a camera, you turn the focus of your attention to each experience without dwelling on the previous ones or thinking of other things. This concentrated awareness is mindfulness. It’s simply a way of allowing yourself to remain alertly engaged in the present moment and enjoying your experiences fully and totally. It’s a way of being fully engrossed and aware of each and every moment of your life. As the founder of ‘Mindfulness’ at the University Massachusetts Medical school, Dr. John Kabat Zinn, aptly defined; ‘Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing’.
Today, most of the people are too busy and are leading a robotic life, without actually knowing what they are doing in each moment. They fail to be aware of their own lovely experiences. They miss to feel and sense and enjoy the pleasures of the present moment. Dr. Amit Ray, the well known Indian author and spiritual leader clearly reminds us; ‘Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing the dance’
Historical background of mindfulness
Mindfulness is not a new concept. It has got its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. It has been practiced through yoga and meditation from very ancient times. In Buddhism, the first step to spiritually is the practice of mindfulness.
The practice of mindfulness was popularized in the western countries by those who learned Buddhism. It was John Kabat Zinn who linked mindfulness with science and healing. He founded the centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 and started scientific research on the benefits of mindfulness practice. Studies proved that mindfulness can provide you with several psychological and physiological benefits such as stress reduction, improved focus and attention, increased memory, decreased emotional reactivity and better relations.
When mindfulness became popular, it was introduced in clinical settings for treating various mental problems like anxiety, depression bipolar disorder etc. Today, mindfulness based cognitive therapy is being successfully used for treating depression and suicidal tendencies. The practice of mindfulness here involves a state of purposeful attention and awareness of the present moment, without judging oneself or others.
Amazing benefits of mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness is a powerful tool to make you fully experience and enjoy each and every moment of your life. Researchers have shown that mindfulness can give you a lot of psychological and physiological benefits. Some of them are discussed here.
Improving quality of life
Several studies show that practice of mindfulness can improve awareness of your experiences. This will help to amplify senses and enhance the quality of your experience considerably. In the absence of mindfulness or awareness, your actions become mechanical and your involvement is not total or holistic. You may not be truly aware of the beauty and joy of that moment. Mindfulness brings the virtues and joys of life to your full awareness and helps to enrich and enlighten each moment. Mindfulness is nothing but the practice of complete present moment awareness. As Thich Nhat Hanhi, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist, spiritual leader and writer, reminds us; ‘Life is available only in the present moment’.
A meta analysis of 39 studies revealed that mindfulness practices were effective in reducing stress and anxiety considerably. Mindfulness can improve one’s ability of concentration and focus on a topic or activity, thereby enhancing his ability and performance in all fields. Since you are fully aware of your actions, mindfulness can enhance efficiency of your working memory. You can easily remember where you have put your keys or mobile phone since you are doing everything with self awareness.
It is also found that mindfulness can reduce negative and disruptive thoughts, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies etc.
Mindfulness practices can improve one’s physical health also by reducing high B.P. and cholesterol. The functioning of the endocrine glands and immune system are found to improve by mindfulness meditation.
Your social relations and connections will become more warm and harmonious since mindfulness reduces your mental stress and anxiety. Your communication with others will be more effective and pleasing. You will be in a better position to understand and manage others emotions as well as your own emotions and situations. This will reduce the chances of misunderstanding and conflicts with others. Ultimately you become a better person with higher emotional intelligence and improved social IQ.
How to practice mindfulness?
In the practice of mindfulness, you purposefully focus on the present moment, not on the past or future. When your mind wanders off during the practice, you may gently and calmly steer back your awareness to the present activity, without judgment or regret. There are several ways to practice mindfulness on a regular basis.
Mindfulness in everyday activities
You can cultivate the habit of mindfulness by bringing your attention to your moment to moment sensations and feelings during each of your everyday activities. Doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention and focus is important. You can very well practice mindfulness during your daily activities such as bathing under a cold shower, brushing your teeth, eating your tasty food, caring your pets or washing your plates etc. Only thing to remember is that you have to slow down the process and try to be totally present by involving all your senses and self. Mindfulness is a sure way of experiencing fulfillment and happiness in everyday activities. As Sharon Salzberg , NY Times bestselling author and world renowned teacher of Buddhist meditation reminds us ‘Mindfulness is not difficult, we just need to remember to do it’.
Have a running commentary of what you do or feel
The easy way to cultivate mindfulness, especially for those who lead a robotic busy life, is to have a continuous running commentary of what you do or feel. This will help to fix your experiences in your mind. For example, ask yourself: ‘What am I doing now?’ Say yourself; ‘Now I am reading newspapers. Now I am watching TV news. Now I am opening the door of the house and putting the key inside the table’. Later, when you are trying to find the key, you can easily remember its place since you have put the key inside the table with full awareness and attention.
Mindful walking is one of the best exercises for cultivating the habit of self awareness. Many are usually walking robotically without knowing that they are walking, i.e. without self awareness. They get lost in different thoughts and forget what they are doing now. When you walk, do it with full awareness, concentration and attention. Feel the sensation on your feet when they touch the ground, focus fully on your steps. As Nhat Hanh advises; ‘Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet’. Look around to see the trees and the various colors of flowers, experience the aroma around, see the faces of the passersby, and listen to your footsteps. Beware of the distractions that pull you away from the direct experiences until you finish your walk.
After completing the walk, review your experiences and feelings you had. You will surely realize how mindfulness makes your walk much more enjoyable and satsfying since it makes you far more aware of the lovely experiences of the senses.
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful practice that can slow down your fast moving and unbridled thoughts and calm both your mind and body. This practice involves a breathing awareness, mental imagery and awareness of the body and mind. Like any other meditation mindfulness meditation brings deep relaxation of the body and mind.
You may select a comfortable place. You can sit in a chair or on the mat on the floor, with your spine straight. Clothing should be loose and comfortable. Start focusing your awareness on your breath. Feel the sensations of the air moving in and out through your nostrils. Feel your belly rise and fall. Be aware of each breath going in and out. When you breathe in say to yourself; ‘I am breathing in’ and when you breathe out say to yourself ‘I am breathing out’ so that you can easily and consistently focus your awareness on breath. You can also visualize that positive energy is entering in to your body when you breath in and negative energy and toxins are going out when you breath out.
Thoughts may rise up in your mind. But you need not try to suppress or avoid them. You may simply observe them non- judgmentally and unemotionally. Let them come and go. Don’t be bothered about it. Just witness them. If your breathing awareness is lost, simply bring back your awareness to breathing. Your breath is used as an anchor which helps to return to over and over again, when you are distracted by your thoughts. As Nhat Hanh reminds us; ‘Feelings come and go like clouds in the windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor’.
If you become distracted by body pain or any irritation and breathing awareness is lost, simply bring back your attention to your breath, as immediately as you come to know of this distraction. Such distractions and corrections are quite normal during the practice of any meditation.
To end the meditation, slowly allow your awareness to expand and notice your entire body and further the entire room you are in. Finally open your eyes slowly and become fully awake and alert.
Researchers from Harvard University recommend meditating for twenty minutes, two times a day for optimum benefits. According to the Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trugpa, ‘Meditation practice is a way of making friends with ourselves’.
Let us not forget what the world renowned spiritual teacher and bestselling author, Eckhart Tolle; pointed out;‘In today’s rush we all think too much-seek too much-want too much and forget about the joy of just being.’
Image credits: www.pixabay.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer, and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is a columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV.
He is the author of five best-selling books
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(CSS, Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than a thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha.
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