The Antidote for the Modern Life
There is no doubt that our modern lives are riddled with constant distractions. A recent study in PLOS One found that the average young adult checks his or her smartphone every 11 minutes and spends more than five hours (30 percent of the day) interacting with it (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004). In moments that once presented the opportunity for reflection and quiet presence, many of us are more likely to pick up our phone and browse the internet, check our email, scroll through Facebook or Twitter, or listen to a podcast.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities, of course. But when we find they collectively replace all of the potential moments in which we find ourselves alone, without distraction, it can have consequences we aren’t even aware of.
In the last few years, while running a digital company and beginning this journey as a blogger, I noticed that something felt off. My external world seemed more in focus rather than internal forces. Once spiritually and mindfully purposed, I had lost sight of the benefits of being fully present. And it wasn’t until I began to reintroduce mindfulness mediation into my daily routine that I began to notice a huge difference in my quality of life. I slowly began to lessen those drivers of distraction – our fears, our judgments, our feelings.
In my mid twenties, I studied Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a pioneer in mindfulness mediation, graduate of MIT, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and author of Wherever you go, There You Are. In a recent article Jon explains “We’re actually imprisoned by what we’re unconscious of. Not a moment goes by in which we don’t like this rather than that or want this more than that. Mindfulness is awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally, so you begin to notice how insanely judgmental we are.”
A large body of evidence has shown that practicing mindfulness, even for a short time, increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Weinstein-MindfulnessStress.pdf). It also helps us tune out distractions and improve our ability to focus. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21501665) Mindfulness enhances our relationships, makes us feel more connected and relaxed, and boosts our compassion for ourselves and others. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789404800285) There is also a wealth of broad research into the health benefits of mindfulness mediation, including pain management, reduction in anxiety and depression, improved blood sugar control, increased focus, reduced cellular aging, healthier pregnancies, improved sleep and overall improved immunity.
How do we practice mindfulness and mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditation and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it. We can all practice mindfulness at any time but how do we practice mindful meditation?
The basics of mindfulness practice are simple.
1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a fancy cushion, or any special equipment’s, all you need is time and space.
2. Pay attention to the present moment. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to qui the mind but rather to pay attention and be present in the moment. Easier said than done.
3. Let your judgments roll by. When thoughts and judgments come into your mind, you can make a note and then pass them along.
4. Return back to being in the present moment. Often times our minds can get carried away with all the thoughts and distractions but that is why mindfulness is about coming back to the present moment again and again.
5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts pop up in your head, just practice recognizing when your thoughts begin to wander and gently pull yourself back to the present.
There are some really great apps that can literally guide through the mediation. I recommend Headspace. I’ve also heard really good things about the app 10% Happier and Insight Timer. There’s also a free 8 week mindfulness course available at the Palouse Mindfulness website that seems to follow Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (not free) course.
Mindfulness is a skill anyone can learn. What is required is a willingness to look deeply at one’s present moments, no matter what they hold, in a spirit of generosity, kindness toward oneself, and an openness toward what might be possible.