Thursday, 2 March 2017

Mindfulness - more to it than breathing exercises?

Lent - Day 2

Everybody's talking about mindfulness - mindfulness's a popular word... (worth reading this article on Wikipedia by way of background). What is it? Meditation? Breathing exercise? Can it even help you live longer? Looking up 'mindfulness' on Google's Ngram Viewer, we can see how the word has increased in usage since the 1970s, and the data only goes up to 2008, after which its rise in popularity has been far more rapid (click to enlarge).

There are now so many books, courses, programmes and seminars on mindfulness - in business, in psychiatry, sport, healthcare, education. Have we reached peak mindfulness? Probably not yet. Has this fad, with its roots in Eastern spirituality, which spread to the West in the 1980s through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, reached Poland? Not to any noticeable degree, not compared to the UK.

Google gives the definition of mindfulness as 'a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique'. Google Translate gives the Polish for mindfulness as uważność, which simply means 'attention'. Yes, there are a few courses on offer, but my cursory googling reveals that around a quarter of Polish-language mindfulness courses available are in the UK. There is a Polski Instytut Mindfulness, focused principally on using the technique for stress reduction. But using mindfulness simply as a tool to reduce stress is to reduce in importance everything else that mindfulness is useful for.

Breathing exercises apart, to me mindfulness is common sense; the more I contemplate it, the more I realise I've been doing this for most of my life, namely having that heightened sense of where I am, what's happening, what I'm feeling; a sense of presence - simply stated - an awareness of being. Conscious existence. And in such a state, connected with the eternal and the infinite. Something far more than a stress-reduction tool.

We can drift through life bumbling on from day to day; we can waste time on irrelevant thoughts or rumination or worry; or we can become aware that we are alive - and simply enjoy that feeling of existing, of breathing, of being aware.

I have written before about this piece of research, linking mindfulness meditation to the extension of telomeres - the protective caps at the ends of our DNA. The suggestion is that we can live longer and healthier lives by abandoning worry and concentrating on the state of being alive and conscious.

Tomorrow - more about physical health.

This time last year:
Pascal's Wager dissected with Occam's Razor

This time two years ago:
Speaking to God, listening to God

This time three years ago:
D3200 shoots X100

This time four years ago:
Weekend with the Fuji X100

This time eight years ago:
Sublime sunset, Jeziorki

This time nine years ago:
Dramatic sunset, Jeziorki

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