According to the Office for National Statistics last year one in five UK citizens rated their anxiety levels as being at six or more out of ten. In today’s world, where calls and emails flood our phones, appointments are crammed into tight schedules and our workplace constantly micro-manages us, it is natural to feel as if we are going through the motions when we go about our day. However, when I think back to my happiest memories they all have one thing in common. In each and every one I was completely immersed in the moment. I was fully absorbed to the point that I lost all self-consciousness. Without even thinking I was left utterly engaged in the here and now. Just to be clear, these weren’t childhood memories but they did have a childlike quality to them, because I was so consumed, it was as if I was experiencing things for the very first time.
Whilst at one of the worlds best facilities in 2009, I was introduced to something called mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation which has gained great medical recognition and is designed to cultivate an experience of living in the moment. However, to stop there would be to sell mindfulness short.
It also encourages us to accept the present in all its fullness – even if what we are experiencing is unpleasant. It serves to both heighten our perceptions and teach us to appreciate and see our environment anew. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of mindfulness and the man responsible for bringing it into the mainstream medical arena, describes mindfulness as ‘The awareness that emerges when we learn to pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally to things as they are.’
The first few mindfulness classes I attended brought me such a deep feeling of relaxation, well being and peace, I knew I would continue to use mindfulness throughout the course of my life. Mindfulness can teach us to access states of openness, acceptance and immersion which we seldom find in our everyday lives. The sort of states one might experience on holiday. Think of mindfulness as a form of mental vacation, a way to connect with non-judgemental principles and a complete acceptance of what is, whatever that may be.
In recent years the body of research on mindfulness has been enormous and the amount of positive findings staggering. Mindfulness has been found to help us better process pain and emotion and there is evidence which suggests it can significantly reduce the chance of patients with chronic depression relapsing. Studies even show that mindfulness can improve our concentration and quality of sleep. As if those benefits weren’t enough, it has also been proven that mindfulness lowers the stress hormone cortisol and many patients treated for stress, anxiety, pain and depression are increasingly being advised to practice mindfulness. Whereby mindfulness was once seen as a holistic treatment, it is now recognised by the medical profession as a viable treatment in and of itself.
To gain more insight into what mindfulness is, it is important to examine what it is not. For instance, mindfulness is not trying to relax. To become aware of the present moment, especially when we are going through a period of stress or depression, can be far from relaxing. Mindfulness simply allows us to become less reactive to our inner struggles and enables us to let go. Unlike other forms of meditation, mindfulness is not trying to rid the mind of thoughts. When thoughts arise (as they will) the mindful person will simply acknowledge and observe them, allowing them to pass and returning their focus to the breath.
Next week features some simple mindfulness exercises to introduce mindful practise into your life!
What have been your experiences of living in the present moment? How would you like to be more present in your life and why? Please comment and share your experiences with our community to gain insight, encouragement and support.
‘GUIDED Mindfulness Meditation CD series’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, available on Amazon