Category: Everyday Mindfulness

The Necessity of Mindfulness: Seeing Things as They Really Are

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by Sam Weston

There came a point when my life collapsed.

I won’t bore you with the details. But needless to say, I had some things on my mind one fine day when I went for an evening run in the country. It was beautiful – green trees nestled amidst sun-drenched fields – but I saw none of it. All I could see or hear was the storm inside my own head. What if I had done X? Or Y? What will happen now? What if Z happens? Will things ever get back to normal? Will I ever get back to normal? I felt like Sisyphus, forever damned to keep pushing that boulder up a mountain, only for that boulder to fall back to the bottom once I reached the top so I could begin the process anew.

Such had been the dystopian hellscape of my mind for weeks, even months, casting a long shadow over every lame, half-hearted positive thought. But, for some reason, today was different. I had stopped trying to “think positive thoughts.” I stopped trying to force it. 

And at last I actually saw the evening sun piercing through the trees. That’s all I did; I just noticed it. I was struck in that moment by the effect of the light glowing behind the new spring leaves, the intensity of the green before me. I breathed deeply, my nose flooding with the scent of flowers and pollen. My ears were assailed by the songs of thousands of birds, it seemed, a full evening orchestra from the canopy above. Although I had seen it all thousands of times before, it was as though I was just now seeing it for the first time. Continuing to breathe, tension that I didn’t even know I was holding just drained from my muscles. I was suddenly in my body again, grounded, connected, the volume of the world turned down. 

Blue Noise

The storm in my mind was still there but it was as though I was observing it from a distance, its noise growing fainter. And from that distance I saw the storm differently – quieter, less dominating of every aspect of my consciousness. I saw that there was just no point ruminating about the past, which was over, done; I could learn from it but no amount of fretting would ever change it. There was no point worrying about the future, which I could not know; I could plan for it, but being anxious about it wouldn’t help a damn thing.

In a sense the past and future were not real, or at least my nightmarish imaginings about them were not real. What was actually real was not the storm but these trees, these birds, this present moment. Suddenly, being so complete and content in the moment, I didn’t need everyone and everything in the world around me to be any particular way; I was strong and secure enough to accept it as it is. I could still try to make things better, of course, but this feeling of contentment didn’t need to depend on it

Even the “big questions” about the ultimate purpose and meaning of it all just felt less urgent than before; this moment was enough. What I realised was that this is, quite literally, what it is all about – everything we do, everything we achieve, everything we believe in, hope for, crave for, search for – it’s all about trying to experience this exact feeling of deep, complete contentment. And I had gotten it, not by solving all my problems or by achieving all my goals, but just by breathing and being present. 

For some reason, that was funny. And so I did something strange for me at the time. I laughed. Like some maniac in the middle of a field, I let out a deep, full-throated laugh. It had been too long.

Happiness and Truth

The Dark Side of Ganymede

It was just a glimpse and of course it didn’t solve all my problems, but it was enough to begin steering me in the right direction. At the time, I both knew about mindfulness and had no idea about it at all. With all the hype and, frankly, faddishness around the idea, it was impossible to not know something about it. I knew mindfulness was an ancient Buddhist practice which had become the latest plaything of the fashionable hipster, the flavour of the month. 

But it wasn’t until this moment that I felt the full force of what those hipsters had been going on about. It turns out there is a word for what happened to me. It is called “vipassana” – a word roughly translating to “insight,” “clear-seeing,” “special-seeing,” or my favourite translation, “seeing things as they really are.” 

The notion that the royal road to well-being and contentment might run through the valleys of truth and reality, in waking up from illusions and “seeing things as they really are,” might strike some as counter-intuitive. There is a marked cynical streak in our culture which says that happiness is incompatible with wisdom; we say “ignorance is bliss,” and speak of “vulgar truths” and “noble lies.” Gustave Flaubert said, “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness. Though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.” 

Yet, from the point of view of various contemplative traditions, this is a strange view. It is precisely ignorance that produces so much of our misery. It is ignorance that is behind our irrational attempt to control things beyond our control, or to think that our well-being depends solely upon external conditions. It is ignorance that makes us think that ruminating about the past and worrying about the future will change anything, or to believe that happiness is only to be found in the future and after we achieve all our goals. It is ignorance of the deep well of contentment that can be found within, right now, beneath the storm of our overthinking mind, that keeps us mired in these illusions; and a fair definition of “wisdom” is any insight that wakes us from them. 

Seeing Things as They Really Are

Mindfulness is more than just a shallow admonition to “be in the present moment,” to repress past and future, which can be attacked – rightly – as a call to ignore all your worldly concerns, as an abdication of personal responsibility, and even as mindlessness. And yes, I’ve seen some who take up mindfulness with half an understanding of it based on what they see on Youtube or read on some blog use it in just that way, as an escape from reality. But what you really do in mindfulness is you use the present moment – by paying attention to your breath, body or senses – as an anchor to ground you, to gain a certain healthy distance from your thoughts and feelings; not so you can ignore them but actually so that you can observe them more clearly and rationally. This is the “special seeing,” the “seeing things as they really are.”

The “objective observer” stance dissolves the anxiety, anger, fear etc. that attends the thought, enabling you to better see which thoughts and feelings are based in reality and which are not, which thoughts are useful and which are pointless rumination, worry, or dissatisfaction. Far from being a way to avoid your problems, mindfulness makes you more effective at dealing with them.

Transformative Experience

Mindfulness doesn’t just transform the way you see your mind but the way you see the world. You experience the world at a deeper level, the level of bare awareness; that is, you see the world “as it really is” unfiltered by words and concepts. Here, the strange, enigmatic statements of mystics, speaking of “seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary,” suddenly make sense. In a deep state of mindfulness you really can become blissed out contemplating something as simple as the rise and fall of the breath, or the way the light is falling on a lamppost. Something as mundane as washing the dishes can suddenly be as entertaining and satisfying as watching your favourite TV show.   

Even sitting and waiting in traffic – something as tedious and annoying as an everyday occurrence can possibly be – can become an opportunity to just let go of everything and drop into the present moment, be aware of your breath, the sounds of cars and people around you, the road, the trees- everything. In these moments when you remember to be mindful you might just find that boredom is impossible and that in fact you’re no longer waiting at all; you’re just continuing to enjoy living your life.

Because the truth is, much of our life is mundane and repetitive; for much of it we are Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down so we can repeat the monotonous process. So normally we seek out happiness by chasing after extraordinary experiences; that overseas adventure, that exhilarating thrill-ride, that momentous occasion. But extraordinary experiences – pretty much by definition – can only ever be a minority of the moments that make up our lives; otherwise they wouldn’t be extraordinary. 

Learning to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, therefore, is what is necessary if we are to actually live in each moment of our lives. We must see the beautiful in the mundane, the joy in the tedium, the sublime in the everyday. We must be able to see what we’ve looked at countless times before as if for the first time. As philosopher Albert Camus once said, we must imagine “Sisyphus happy.”  

The Necessity of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than an art, or a science, or even a religious practice: it is a necessity for living the good life. Without at least some degree of mindfulness you’re not really living, not really present to your own life; you’re a zombie, going through all the motions of life but unaware, uncomprehending. 

Masons handy work

That’s why mindfulness is not, as some seem to be treating it in the modern age, merely a treatment for anxiety or depression, and therefore only relevant to those suffering from mental illness; nor is it just an antidote to the stressed out, overworked modern age. It’s certainly not just a handy sleep-aid. It’s for everyone, everywhere, because it is the means by which we gain control of our own minds and actually, truly, live.

This is not to say that we can always be in control of our mind and always have perfect perspective. We are only human after all, and I remain agnostic on the question of whether anyone has ever reached such levels of sainthood that they have lived in a state of perfect mindfulness permanently. But this control of the mind, this freedom, this seeing things as they really are, is as good a definition of nirvana as I know.


Find more of Sam’s writing here.

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How Mindfulness Saved My Life

Dupont Underground Fork

by Jon Wilde

It is said that people come to mindfulness either by way of a whisper or a scream. I think it’s fair to say that I came to the practice via the last-chance-saloon route. I was drowning, not waving. Screaming, not whispering.

One morning, in mid-December 2012, whilst walking my dog in a Brighton park, I found myself plotting how I was going to kill myself. There was nothing dramatic about it. In fact, when I look back to that moment in the park, it’s the casualness of my approach to suicide that I find most chilling.

As my spaniel scampered about doing what dogs do in parks, I coolly planned my exit. There would be letters to write: to my children; to my friends; to any family members that I still cared about. I’d need to find someone to take care of my dog.

Then there would be all the other stuff I’d need to do before taking my own life. I had no idea what this other stuff might involve but I was sure there was other stuff that I’d need to do before killing myself.

Three days after that walk in the park I sat and meditated for the first time. My life was about to undergo a sudden, radical change. Nothing would ever be the same again. I was about to start learning how to live.

Through the floorboardsThe mindfulness writer/teacher Ed Halliwell talks about how, for many years, he sensed a kind of rumbling under the floorboards of his life. Some of you might be familiar with that kind of rumbling. Nothing you can quite put your finger on. A vague but insistent feeling that things aren’t quite right. A feeling that grows and grows.

For many years, my experience was very similar to Ed’s. As far back as I can remember, I’d always lived on the edge of anxiety, prone to panic attacks and spells of depression. I worried about everything, including worrying itself. By the time I reached adulthood, I’d become so accustomed to feeling anxious that it became completely normal. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t imagine a life without anxiety. Somehow I held myself together.

On the face of it, life in my twenties, thirties and forties was tickety-boo. A successful, well-paid journalist, my job basically involved travelling the world interviewing A-list celebrities. A typical day at the office for me was sitting by a Hollywood pool, shooting the breeze with the likes of Robert Downey Jr. or Paul McCartney. As I jetted off on yet another trip to yet another fancy location, my friends would tell me that I had the life of Riley. But that underground rumbling never went away. In fact, it was getting louder and louder.

Towards the end of 2012, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, the rumbling was deafening. Yet another catastrophic romantic relationship had hit the rocks. Work was drying up. I was in big financial trouble. I was in the middle of three major health scares. My home situation had become untenable. My drinking was out of control and I was sleeping with difficulty. My days were taut with anxiety, heavy with depression. Quicksands of disquiet on all sides. The life I was living was unsustainable. And that’s when I found myself wandering around a park, calmly contemplating suicide.

Then I discovered mindfulness.

Ask me about my life and I’ll talk about two very distinct chapters. There’s my life before mindfulness. Then there’s everything that came after. When I think about my old life, I can barely recognize the person I was – perpetually anxious, often depressed, constantly seeking something outside of myself to give me peace of mind, contentment, meaning. Meditation changed all that.

Mindfulness is not for everybody and, even those who catch the habit, may warm to it slowly, taking weeks or even months to notice any sizeable benefits.

ConduitFor me, it was immediately transformative. Halfway through my first sitting meditation, I remember thinking, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for all my life.’ Within the first few days of meditation practice, I noticed that I was travelling that little bit lighter. Within a few weeks, I started to realise that I wasn’t feeling remotely anxious. I could see that I was disengaging from my old mental habits. I was no longer feeding my old reactive patterns. Uneasy thoughts about the past and the future had lost their magnetic pull. I was finding it easier and easier to experience the present moment as it really is.

In meditation, I discovered the kind of quiet spaciousness that I’d been looking for all my life. With practice, I learned how to carry that quiet spaciousness away from the meditation bench and into the rest of my day. Truly, it felt like I had found an entirely new way of being. It felt like I had finally come home to myself in a meaningful way.

These days, sitting around pools with Hollywood stars and rock legends is as much a distant memory as the almost constant sense of unease that defined my old life. I’m grateful for much of that old life, for all the adventures, for all the meetings in far-flung locations with feral hellraisers and wild-hearted outsiders. But I can see all too clearly that I was present, genuinely present, for very little of it.

Mindfulness radically transformed my life and I figure that, if it could transform my life, then it can transform anyone’s life.

So we start right here, exactly where we are, and not from where we would prefer to be. When we are centred in our own lives, when what is actually happening is not muddled by the mental overlay of worries, concepts and preconceptions, we might be able to see that there is nothing wrong with this moment. It simply is what it is. And it’s nothing to be afraid of. As soon as we realise that, we can stop running away from our own lives. Just as I finally stopped running away from mine.

If not now, then when?


A child of Pembrokeshire, Jon spent 35 years working as a journalist, specialising in celebrity interviews. In 2016, he qualified as mindfulness teacher. He now divides his time between teaching mindfulness and mentoring people in recovery and on the homeless pathway. He also works as a Recovery Motivator. He is the co-author of the mindfulness book, The Turning Point. Now aged 59, he lives in Brighton.

Jon can be contacted at jonwilliamwilde@gmail.com

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Mindfulness: A Bird’s-Eye View

by Sandra Bishop

Indianapolis Zoo 07-28-2014 - Budgie 1

I‘ve always kept budgies. They were part of my childhood, my adolescence and young adulthood, and in middle-age they are my here and now. And sitting with my ever-present feathered friends, I learn so much about the practice of mindfulness.

We flock by the window, they on their perch and myself on my chair, as I parrot the words of W.H. Davies:

What life is this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

Together we watch the suburban scene outside, as cars roll by and pigeons strut. The longer I sit, the more I see. Elderflowers bloom, and beyond blossom, tower blocks touch the sky. The postman on his midday route, and dogs on leads, and mams with bright-hued prams. My budgies and I, we watch it all.

In other moments I would, no doubt, analyse and judge the world below. I would look to my lawn and remember how busy life has been, that I have not had time to mow the grass. I’d recall the chores that keep me from the garden, and my worries would start anew. My unbidden, grasshopper thoughts would jump from missteps better left asleep to
misfortunes not yet born.

I’d notice the bare spot in the border, and I’d think “I should buy a new plant. The lavender recommended in Gardeners’ World magazine could be an option. Or maybe I should fill the spot with a bird bath. One of the lovely ornamental ones I saw in the garden centre last month.” 

GRASSHOPPER

My grasshopper mind would flit from one possibility to the next, never satisfied and never at rest. And then, overwhelmed with the effort of thinking, I would simply cease to notice the world at all. Not so when I sit with my birds. For they remind me to stop and stare.

From our first floor vantage we watch the world, focused only on the present moment. I notice the empty space in the border, but I neither label it as bad nor good; it just is. Should grasshopper thoughts spring, they do not linger. Momentarily, I ponder buying that new plant, and consider what might happen if I don’t (clue: existing plants will grow to fill the emptiness). And then I brush the grasshopper away. I observe my thoughts as impermanent and passing, like the clouds.

Until, in sudden uprush, birds take wing. Through moment-by-moment awareness of the world outside, my budgies see something I do not,taking cover across the room. They remind me that mindful acceptance is not the same as indifference. Rather, we accept the reality of the moment we are in, and this insight guides our flight.

Described by the nineteenth century ornithologist John Gould as “the most animated, cheerful little creatures you can possibly imagine”, these small,long-tailed parakeets are my comfort and my joy. Small birds with big personalities, that’s what my mother would say. Yet despite the affection I bear them, it often seems that I should spend my time more productively. There’s a house to hoover, bills to pay, an inbox to empty, and family to phone. And as my budgies return to the window, my grasshopper mind pulls me in a thousand directions.

So I focus my gaze on my feathered guides. I direct purposeful attention to their scalloped feathers, sleek and interlaced, with gossamer down beneath. They dance and bob before me, joyfully present in the here-and-now. I notice the sun, warm through the glass, and the hum of a distant lawnmower. Grounded by my senses, I follow my flock, watching the world below. I return to the present moment, and feel once more the palpable, descending calm. For poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.


Discover more about Sandra and her writing here:
https://sandrabishopwriting.com/portfolio

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Habits and Everyday Addictions

by Judson Brewer

Everyday Adelaide No. 130 (Spring/Summer) (SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre)

Hate to tell you this, but you’re addicted to something. When you read the word addicted, your first thoughts might be of alcohol, heroin, opioids, or other illicit drugs. You might also think that addiction is something that happens to other people. A friend, family member, or coworker who really struggled (or is still struggling) might pop into your head as your brain quickly compares their situation to yours. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said out loud, “No way, I’m not an addict. I just have a few pesky habits that keep sticking around.”

I can guess that’s your first reaction, because that’s exactly what I thought for the longest time. I’m just a normal guy who grew up in the center of normal—Indiana. My mom made sure I ate my vegetables, got an education, and stayed away from drugs. I clearly took her lessons to heart—perhaps even too much?— because here I am, in my forties, and I’m a vegetarian with too many graduate degrees (MD and PhD). Everything a boy could do to make his mom proud. Yet I didn’t know the first thing about addiction.

In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my psychiatry residency training at Yale that I really learned about addiction. I saw patients addicted to meth, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, cigarettes . . . you name it. Many of them were addicted to multiple substances at the same time, and many had been in and out of rehab. In most cases, these were ordinary, intelligent people who knew all too well the costs of their addiction on their health, their relationships, the people around them— heck, on their lives in general—and yet they could not get back in control. It was often as baffling as it was sad.

Seeing what my patients were going through brought to life the otherwise dry definition of addiction: “continued use despite adverse consequences.” Addiction isn’t limited to the use of chemicals such as nicotine, alcohol, and heroin. Continued use despite adverse consequences goes way beyond cocaine or cigarettes or any of the really bad things I had avoided. That definition— and let’s hear it once again, in case we’re in any doubt: “continued use despite adverse consequences”—well, that could mean continued use of anything.

A strange sunrise

This thought brought me up short. While I was treating patients who had ruined their lives with use of the big bad stuff, I also had some nagging questions in my head: “What if the root of addiction isn’t in the substances themselves, but in a deeper place? What really causes addiction?” Could anxiety be a habit, or even an addiction? In other words, how obvious are the adverse consequences of anxiety?

Can we get addicted to worrying? On the surface, it seems that anxiety helps us get things done. It seems that worrying helps us protect our children from harm. But does the science back this up?

The joke among psychological researchers is that when we conduct research, we are in fact conducting “me-search.” We study our own quirks, foibles, and pathology (conscious or unconscious) in order to gain a way into the wider subject. So I looked inward; and I also started asking friends and coworkers about their habits. Long story short: I found addiction everywhere. And this is what it looked like: Continued shopping despite adverse consequences. Continued pining away for that special someone despite adverse consequences. Continued computer gaming despite adverse consequences. Continued eating despite adverse consequences. Continued daydreaming despite adverse consequences. Continued social media checking despite adverse consequences. Continued worrying despite adverse consequences (yes, as you’ll see, worry does have significant adverse consequences). Addiction isn’t limited to the so-called hard drugs and addictive substances. It is everywhere. Is this new, or had we missed something?

The answer: this is old and new. Let’s start with the new.

The rate of change in our world over the last twenty years far outstrips all the changes in the previous two hundred years. Our brains and bodies haven’t kept up, and it’s killing us.

Let’s use where I grew up—Indianapolis, Indiana, the middle of the Midwest, the center of normal— as an example. Back in the 1800s, if I lived on a farm on the prairie and I had a hankering for a new pair of shoes, I’d need to hitch my horse to my wagon, ride into town, talk to the person at the general store about what shoes I wanted (and what size), go back home, wait a couple of weeks for the order to go out to the cobbler and for them to be made, hitch my horse back up to my wagon, go back into town, and (assuming I had the money to pay for the shoes) buy the darn shoes. Now? I can be zipping along in my car, find myself stuck in traffic, and in a fit of frustration, click on an ad that I saw in my email (yes, targeted to me because Google knows I like to buy shoes), and as if by magic, one to two days later (thanks to Amazon Prime), a pair of perfectly fitting shoes shows up on my doorstep.

You don’t need to be an addiction psychiatrist to see that the two-minute, two-click fix is more likely to get you to keep buying shoes than the two-month experience.

In the name of convenience and efficiency, the modern world is increasingly designed to create addictive experiences. This holds true for things (like shoes, food, etc.) and behaviors (like watching TV, checking social media, or playing video games). It can even be true for thoughts, like politics, romance, or the need to keep up with the latest news: dating apps and news feeds are increasingly engineered to have itch-inducing features and headlines designed to be “clickbait.” Instead of time-honored news agencies delivering a newspaper to your door once a day, letting you decide what to read, modern media conglomerates and start-ups decide what information to deliver to you and when. They can track your every search and click, which give them feedback on which articles have click-worthy stickiness that gets you to scratch that itch. Based on this feedback, they can write more clicky and sticky articles, rather than simply delivering the news. Notice how today more headlines are phrased as questions or partial answers than ten years ago.

On top of this, because almost everything is readily available at a moment’s notice through our TVs, laptops, and smartphones, companies can take advantage of any weak moment (boredom, frustration, anger, loneliness, hunger) by offering a simple emotional fix (buy these shoes, eat this food, check this news feed). And these addiction get reified and solidified into habits, so that they don’t feel like addictions—they just feel like who we are.

How did we get here?

Prairie Stendhalienne

To answer this question, we need to go back a lot further in time than Little House on the Prairie. We need to go back to when our brains evolved the ability to learn.

Remember, our brains have old and new components. The new parts facilitate thinking, creativity, decision-making, and so on. But these newer sections are layered on top of the older parts of our brain—parts that evolved to help us survive. One example that I gave in chapter 2 was the fight/flight/freeze instinct. Another feature of the “old brain” that I briefly touched on previously is what’s known as the reward-based learning system.­ Reward-based learning is based on positive and negative reinforcement. Put simply, you want to do more of the things that feel good (positively reinforcing) and less of thethings that feel bad (negatively reinforcing). This ability is so important and evolved so far back that scientists can see it at play in sea slugs—as I mentioned earlier, organisms with only twenty thousand neurons in their entire nervous system (a discovery so big Eric Kandel won the Nobel Prize for it). Imagine that: just twenty thousand neurons. That’s a creature similar to a car stripped down to only the essential elements needed to make it go (and stop).

Back in cave-person days, reward-based learning was exceedingly helpful. Since food was hard to come by, our hairy ancestors might come across some food and their stodgy little brains would grunt, “Calories . . . survival!” Cave person tasted the food—yummy—and presto! Cave person survived. When cave person got some sugar or fat, his or her brain not only connected nutrients with survival but also released a chemical called dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential for learning to pair places with behaviors. Dopamine acted like a primeval whiteboard, upon which was written: “Remember what you are eating and where you found it.” Cave person laid down a context-dependent memory and learned over time to repeat the process. See food, eat food. Survive. Also, feel good. Repeat. Trigger/cue, behavior, reward.

Fast-forward to last night. You weren’t feeling so great— you had a bad day at work; your partner said something hurtful; or you recalled the moment your father left your mother for somebody else— and you remembered that Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate Bar on the door of your refrigerator. These days, finding food isn’t as hard as it was for the cave person, so food has a different role in the (over-) developed world at least. Our modern brains say, Hey, you can use this dopamine thing for more than remembering where food is. In fact, the next time you feel bad, you can try eating something good, and you’ll feel better! We thank our brains for that great idea and quickly learn that if we eat chocolate or ice cream when we’re mad or sad, we feel better. This is the exact same learning process that cave person went through, but now the trigger is different: Instead of a hunger signal coming from our stomach, an emotional signal— feeling sad/mad/hurt/lonely— triggers our urge to eat.

Recall back to when you were a teenager. Remember those rebel kids outside of school smoking? You really wanted to be that cool, so you start smoking. The Marlboro man wasn’t a dork, and this was no accident. See cool. Smoke to be cool. Feel good. Repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward. And each time you perform the behavior, you reinforce this brain pathway.

Before you know it—because it’s not really a conscious occurrence—the way you deal with an emotion or to assuage stressors becomes a habit.

This is a crucial moment, so please read this slowly: With the same brain mechanisms as that unnamed cave person, we modern geniuses have gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves with these habits. And it’s gotten exponentially worse in the last twenty years. Obesity and smoking are among the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the world. Undeterred by modern medicine, anxiety disorders top the charts as the most predominant psychiatric conditions.

On top of this, people spend most of their time online getting little dopamine hits from clicking on this or that, or liking this or that, or being liked for this or that. Each of these habits and conditions are created by our old brain trying to help us survive in a new world.

And it’s not working so well.

I’m not just talking about stress or overeating or shopping or unhealthy relationships or too much time online or that general anxiety we all seem to face all the time. If you ever get caught up in a worry habit loop, you know what I mean:

Trigger: Thought or emotion
Behavior: Worrying
Result/reward: Avoidance, overplanning, etc.

Here, a thought or emotion triggers your brain to start worrying. This results in avoiding the negative thought or emotion, which feels more rewarding than the original thought or emotion.

Remember back to the start of summer...

Let’s recap:
Our brains evolved to help us survive. When we were hungry cavepeople, we used reward-based learning to help us remember where to find food. Now this learning process can be leveraged to trigger cravings and evoke emotions . . . and create habits, compulsive behavior, and addictions.

Companies have understood this for quite a while now.

The food industry spends billions of dollars finding just the right amount of salt, sugar, and crunch to make foods irresistible. Social media companies spend thousands of hours tweaking their algorithms to make sure you are triggered by the perfect photos, videos, and posts to keep you scrolling for hours (while looking at their advertising partners). News outlets optimize their headlines for clickbait. Online retailers design their websites with hooks like “other customers like you also purchased . . .” to keep you searching until you buy. It’s everywhere, and it’s only going to get more intense and bigger.

And it’s worse than you realize: there are additional “addiction maximizers” in play in the modern world.

First, the most crave-ogenic (that is to say, meant to make you crave) type of reinforcement learning is called intermittent reinforcement. When an animal is given a reward that isn’t on a regular schedule or one that seems random (intermittent), the dopamine neurons in the brain perk up more than usual. Think of a time when someone surprised you with a gift or party. I bet you can remember it, right? That’s because unexpected rewards fire off dopamine in your brain at a much higher rate than expected ones.

Casinos provide one example of how this works in the commercial world. They have dialed intermittent reinforcement in so well that they have a formula/algorithm that has the slot machines “hit” just enough times to get people to keep playing, even though on average everyone loses money (the casino’s “winning” formula).

Red alert

Here’s another: Silicon Valley. It turns out that intermittent reinforcement extends to anything that alerts you to something new. Remember, this is our old brain, using the only tricks that it has to try to survive in today’s fast-paced and hyperconnected world. That part of the brain, though, doesn’t know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger and a late-night email from your boss. So any kind of alert—from the ancient “You’ve got mail” of aol.com to a buzz in your pocket for a new like on your social media post—triggers a response in your old brain. Your email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Trulia 3-bedroom, 21⁄2-bath apartment with granite countertops search filter— anything that claims to help you stay connected is designed for maximum addiction, in part because they don’t bing, beep, tweet, email, or chirp at regular intervals.

The second everyday addiction maximizer in the modern world is immediate availability. Buying those shoes back in the 1800s was a lot of work, and that was a good thing. If I had a hankering for new shoes to celebrate the end of the Civil War, I couldn’t just impulsively order them, knowing that they’d show up at my barn the next day. And because the process was arduous and time-consuming and slow and, crucially, not immediate, I had to think hard about the costs and benefits. Were the shoes I already had really worn out, or would they work for a little while longer?

Time is critical for allowing all of that excitement to wash over us (oh, new shoes, how fun!), and importantly, go away. Time gives us, well, time to sober up, so that the sweet juiciness of the moment can fade into the reality of the need.

In the modern world, however, you can take care of any need or desire almost instantly. Stressed out? No problem. Cupcakes are right around the corner. Bored? Check out the latest posts on Instagram. Anxious? Watch cute puppy videos on YouTube. “Need” a new pair of shoes (as in see someone with a cute pair of shoes that you have to have)? Just hop on Amazon.

Hate to also tell you this, but . . . your smartphone is nothing more than an advertising billboard in your pocket. What’s more, you pay for it to advertise to you constantly.

By combining the reward-based learning built into our old brain with intermittent reinforcement and immediate availability, we’ve created a dangerous formula for modern-day habits and addictions that goes well beyond what we typically think of as substance abuse.

simple beauty

I’m not laying this out just to scare you. I want you to understand how your mind works and how much of the modern world is de signed to create addictive behaviors and capitalize on them. In order to successfully work with your mind, you have to first know how your mind works. Once you understand how your mind works, you can begin to work with it. It’s that simple. Now you know how your mind forms habits. And with this understanding, you are ready to take the next step: mapping your mind.

Ready for the first reflection?

Anxiety is a bit trickier than most habits. To manage anxiety, you need a bottom-up approach, so let’s start with something simple. What are my top three habits and everyday addictions? What bad habits and unwanted behaviors do I keep doing, despite adverse consequences?


Excerpted from UNWINDING ANXIETY by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2021, Dr. Judson Brewer

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Poetry as Mindfulness

Misty morning - HFF!

by Janice Falls

I want to tell you something.

This morning is bright after all the steady rain, and every iris,
peony, rose, opens its mouth, rejoicing.

I want to say, wake up, open your eyes, there’s a snow-covered road
ahead, a field of blankness, a sheet of paper, an empty screen.

Barbara Crooker, “Listen” (1-5)

There is much to instruct us in the
practice of mindfulness to be found in poetry. Its presence in my life has
deepened my practice in ways I could not have imagined. When I am reading a
poem that touches me, I am immersed in the images, the musicality and beauty of
the language, the felt sense that the words create – I am nowhere else. Not all
poems have this effect of course but those that do are soul medicine.

Aurora

I have been collecting favourite poems for several years now, posting on my blog Heart Poemswhere I share my thoughts and feelings without any analysis or explanation of the poem’s meaning. For me, a poem that resonates is like my breath, a focal point in the chaos of my day that gently holds me in the here and now. So often I hear from readers of Heart Poems that a particular poem met them at the exact place and time in their life when those words were most needed. How does that happen? This is the magic a certain poem may work when it is true for you.

It’s easy to lose this tenderly unfolding moment.

Look for it as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter.

Listen for it as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.

Pat Schneider, “Instructions for the Journey” (8-13)

A quote from the American poet
Muriel Rukeyser says “This moment is real, this moment is what we have, this
moment in which we face each other and if a poem is any damn good at all, it
invites you to bring your whole life to that moment and we are good poets
inasmuch as we bring that invitation to you, and you are good readers inasmuch
as you bring your whole life to the reading of the poem.”

Autumn Mist

To read a poem with full attention
is to be in the present moment without judgement, simply aware of the music of
the words, the effect on me as I hear them. Poetry is best appreciated spoken
aloud, hearing the rhythm and syntax and diction as they come together in this
unique collection of words. Poetry slows us down in a way that prose does not –
shorter lines, white space, succinct words all conspire to bring us into the
moment of reading or listening – until the next distraction interrupts our
attention, after which we can return to the poem, much like the breath. Some
poems ask, even demand, of us attention that excludes the outside world, the
mundane and complex worries of living a life in this century. They invite us
into a world of raw beauty or despair, consoling or challenging through their
carefully chosen language.

All day he works at his cousin’s mill, so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window, sees one time of day, twilight.

There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.

It’s as his cousin says:

Living—living takes you away from sitting.

Louise Glück, “Twilight” (1-6)

Poetry is a subjective experience; we each respond to it differently. These excerpts are small tastes of longer poems, available to read in full by clicking on the title. I hope these few words are enough to entice you to explore poetry, especially if you are one who says you don’t like it or don’t understand it. Though you may not understand every line, the whole of it may call to you, may sing your own song. There is a presence in poems that invites us to pay attention, to stop, breathe, focus. It is there that we are mindful of the life we are living, that we can come home to ourselves, if only for a moment.

It’s impossible to be lonely when you’re zesting an orange.

Scrape the soft rind once and the whole room fills with fruit.

Look around: you have more than enough.

Always have.

You just didn’t notice until now.

Amy Schmidt, “Abundance”

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How Mindfulness Stopped Me From Over-thinking My Life

Blue glass

by Nikolina Eisinger

It’s getting harder and harder to pump the breaks of our busy
lives. Silence is hard to find these days. We are constantly over-stimulated
and/or distracted. In almost any given second, someone or something requires
our attention. We are connected with our families, friends, bosses and the rest
of the world 24/7 through smartphones, laptops and tablets.

I remember going to the library as a child. I love reading, so I
spent most of my free time there. The librarian would get mad at me when I was
making any kind of noise, and I would become so frustrated with his demands for
silence. Now, I crave silence and can’t remember the last time I slowed down
and sat quietly with my own thoughts for more than 15 minutes. My mind is
constantly running at a noisy pace.

Especially when I put my head on the pillow. It’s like a gate
opens and all of my thoughts, emotions and fears sneak their way into my mind.
It became scary even, so I began distracting myself with noise – books, social
media, videos, and the vicious circle was created. 

Feu d'encens

Over-thinking every situation is not at all “being present” in
the moment. I was analyzing the conversations I had with my friends and
colleagues during the day and wondering what I could have said differently. I
was convincing myself that my boss would fire me, that my friends were mad at
me, and I was coming up with numerous diseases and unfortunate events that
could happen in my future to me and my loved ones. One night I convinced myself
that I had a deadly disease, and I was so anxious and scared that I couldn’t
sleep for a second. I was tossing, turning and analysing until the alarm went
off. 

That was the moment I realised that I’d gone too far and that it
had to stop. I used to believe that over-thinking meant that I’m a person who
loves to plan ahead. We all know there is nothing wrong with preparing yourself
for different scenarios. You can make informed decisions this way, plan your
future, choose your path and be happy. Yet my behaviour was anything but this –
it was toxic for both my mind and body. It was leading to stress, panic,
anxiety, unnecessary and irrational fears. 

Aware of the problem, I decided that was time to do something
about it. I googled how many thoughts an average person has per day – the
answer was something close to 75,000! And it turns out that almost 80% of these
thoughts are negative – and repetitive. Imagine the damage we’re inflicting on
ourselves on a daily basis. 

How I used meditation to stop overthinking

The next logical thing to do was to google “how to stop over-thinking”,
and I was once again flooded with information on the matter. You can find
numerous tips online on the topic. Of course, I read almost all of them and
decided to try meditation. 

One of the most useful things I found was a simple test that you
can do in a matter of minutes: put a timer on your phone for 30 seconds, close
your eyes and count any thoughts that cross your mind. I counted over 40. It
started with “why am I doing this?” continued with “I bet I look silly?”, and
turned to “what should I cook today?”, and “how am I supposed to meet my
deadline?”

Almost all of the thoughts I caught were negative. 

Earth Colors

Motivated to change this toxic pattern, I lit up my candles,
took my favourite blanket and sat comfortably in my bed and prepared to
meditate. I put a 15 minute timer on my phone and waited for the magic to
happen. But nothing really happened. I felt uncomfortable and weird. I tried
that a couple of more times, and I became frustrated that my mind was
resisting. So, naturally, I started over-thinking that as well. 

I dug into meditation forums, and it turned out that a lot of
people feel this way in the beginning. Nothing of lasting benefit happens
overnight so I don’t know why I thought that this would. 

I dug deeper into the topic, and I found guided meditation. You just play a recording with instructions about when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Excited, I gave it a try. It still felt weird, but I found myself able to experience uninterrupted stillness (for at least a couple of minutes). Turns out that the process of meditation is very simple – you can just sit and follow your breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered and you are lost in thought, you gently lead your attention back to the breath.

As I learned, regular practice is key. I also learned that
mindfulness doesn’t promise to remove all the problems from one’s life.
However, with practice, you might begin to relate to those problems
differently. Life challenges are always likely to arise and mindfulness can change
how you react to the events and circumstances that are happening.

Here are some practical tips that helped me throughout my
journey:

Create a schedule and commit to it

The first thing you need to do is come up with a schedule and
commit to it. Start with 10-15 minutes per session, 2-3 times a week. Choose a
time when you’ll be relatively undisturbed until you build a habit of it. Many
people start out waking early in the morning while everyone else is
sleeping. 

Be comfortable 

There is not a golden rule to follow here. Just make sure to wear something that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. Choose a suitable environment in which to meditate. Whether it’s outside, inside, on the couch, on the floor, cross-legged or laying down – all that matters is that you are able to come to rest whilst remaining alert.

Practice staying mindful throughout the day

Clouded evening Sky

I started meditation to become more mindful and self-aware in the
moment. I wanted to build skills to help me stop over-thinking. What I learned
is while it’s great to be mindful for the duration of a meditation, you can
also learn to fold mindfulness into your everyday life. As my practice became
more and more grounded, I learned to be mindful in all kinds of different
situations.

I no longer fear my thoughts. When I get caught up in
over-thinking, whether during meditation or in the rest of my day, I can notice
where my mind has gone and gently bring my attention back to the present
moment. I’ve learned how to live my life rather than over-think it.


Author’s Bio: 

After an incredible career working for B companies like Live Earth and Headspace, and travelling the world, Nikki now lives on a 1901 homestead in NW Montana with her partner, twin teen girls, a herd of goats, chickens and two dogs.  Like most folks  in Montana, Nikki doesn’t “do” just one thing. She is the founder of Glad.is – a guide to intentional living & mindfulness, and co-owner  of Tobacco River Ranch Glamping

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Give The Gift Of Compassion This Holiday Season With Co-Mindfulness

Dwarf Burford Holly

by Doro Bush Koch & Tricia Reilly Koch

This year many of us won’t be traveling home for
the holidays. We won’t be rushing off to parties to celebrate the passing of
another year with our friends. We’ll find new pandemic-safe ways to get
together with our loved ones – over Zoom, bundled up around a fire outside,
masked inside our living-rooms with the windows wide open.

Managing our lives during a global pandemic has
been stressful and emotionally draining. Having sacrificed so much already, it
feels cruel not to be able to share the holidays with the people we love. In
our sadness and fatigue, many of us might be inclined to withdraw and hunker
down, but to retreat would be a mistake. The best gift we can give ourselves,
and our loved ones, this holiday season is the gift of our compassion.

Before Covid-19 became a household word, we
started asking ourselves what giving our compassion to others might look like.
How do we make compassion not something we practice every once in a while, but
the very foundation of how we interact with people? Scientific studies have
shown that giving is a much more pleasurable and beneficial experience for us
than receiving is. When we give our compassion to others, not only are we
lifting up the people around us, we are also giving a very real boost to our
own well-being and happiness.

Are You Listening?

To help people cultivate more compassion in their
everyday lives, our team at Bright, Bold & Real Wellness Consulting has
devised a practice that we call Co-Mindfulness. Inspired by the core tenets of
mindfulness meditation, co-mindfulness is a wellness practice rooted in our
relationships. While we tend not to think of our individual well-being as bound
up in other people, scientific studies have revealed that close empathic
relationships are as vital to our health and happiness as diet, exercise,
meditation and sleep are.

Like meditation, co-mindfulness is a practice that
we intentionally set out to do. In mindfulness meditation, we use our breath to
bring our attention to the present moment. In co-mindfulness, we use 7 core principles
to be more fully and compassionately present to the people in our lives. Today,
we’d like to share the first principle “Giving Our Full Attention” to help you make
compassion part of your everyday life. To get started,
choose one close person in your life as your co-mindfulness partner. This
person (who doesn’t need to know that they’re your partner) will serve as your ‘time’
to practice co-mindfulness, meaning whenever you are with this person you will practice
giving them your full attention. Having a partner when getting started ensures
that you regularly practice the principle. Over time, as the principle becomes
more familiar and natural, you can expand your practice to others. The goal is
for the principle to become such an ingrained habit that you begin to do it instinctually
without thinking.

The
principle “Giving Our Full Attention” begins with what we like to call deep
listening
. Deep listening is
patient, inquisitive and has no agenda. Unlike most of the listening we do,
deep listening is a deliberate quality of listening that generously gives space
to another person to freely and safely express themselves. To practice deep
listening, you first need to let go of any expectations you might have for the
conversation. You need to set aside your own personal thoughts and feelings and
make yourself fully available to your partner. Once you’ve carved out a space
within yourself for your partner, you then invite them to speak first, closely listening
to their emotions as well as their words. When they are done speaking, instead
of responding with your own anecdote or piece of advice, you ask open-ended
questions to draw them out, such as “Why did you…?” “What were you feeling
when…?” “Can you tell me more about…” You let your partner take the
conversation wherever they want. All you have to do is make them feel valued and
held by your deep compassionate listening.

20180225_Sunset before the snow

As you listen to your partner, you will also
need to pay attention to what they’re not saying – their body language,
tone of voice, subtle facial expressions. Somewhere between 60 – 80% of human
communication is nonverbal. To understand what your partner is truly thinking and feeling, you
will need to fight your natural
instinct to take what they are saying at face value and pay close attention to
their non-verbal cues. Be especially attentive to any incongruities between what
they are saying and their body language. If you notice a disparity, inquire
about it. You could say something like, “You say you are…but I notice that
you…” These thoughtful observations shared in an open and non-judgmental way
can help to draw your partner out and have them share with you what is really
going on with them.

Giving someone our full attention is how we
express our love for them. We all have a deep desire to be loved and
understood. The more we practice giving our full attention with the people in
our lives, the more we show them our understanding and love, the more we will
be loved and understood in return. This year make compassion your gift to your
loved ones and enjoy a healthier, happier and more fulfilling holidays.


To learn more about co-mindfulness, go to https://comindfulnessproject.com/.       

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Ripple Effect: Mindfulness and COVID-19

Ripple Reduction

by Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles

“There is only one cause of
unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head.” ~ Anthony De Mello

Covid-19.
That name alone sends shivers down the spine. Stories of suffering, death,
tragedy. A global pandemic the likes we have never seen before, at least in our
lifetimes. Bungled government responses. Politicalization of mask wearing. The
noise is maddening. 

Living in Maine during this time has been a gift. We thought we
were immune to the devastating impact of COVID-19. But like the emerging
winter, it showed itself in all of its viral might. Yet we kept on living like
we’d be okay. Yet, here we are. Right in the thick of it. With no sign of
letting up.

It seemed innocent enough. A night with friends.  Laughter.
Support. Joy. “It’s safe here”, you tell yourself. Everyone’s doing their part.
You tell yourself it won’t happen to you. 

Fast forward to three days later. Fatigue. Cough. Something’s not
right. Maybe it’s just a cold. Maybe it’s not. “Stay home” you hear. So you
stay home and make an appointment to get tested just to be sure.  There’s
too much at stake. 

Then the results come in like something out of The Scarlett
Letter. Positive for COVID-19. The flood of emotions – anger, sadness, grief, despair,
uncertainty, guilt, shame, fear. You have no idea how this will turn out. You
wonder who else will be impacted. The fear of the unknown, the fear of the
ripple effect stares you in the face. 

What to do? Well, you can’t change what’s happened to you, but you
can change how you respond. That’s a choice you can make everyday. 

Ripples

As an anxious person, employing a mindfulness practice has been a
big part of my life.  It’s a practice that is sacred, is ever evolving and
is personal. It’s this mindfulness practice that is getting me through COVID.
Every morning I meditate. I’ll find a place to quietly set an intention. I’ll
listen to either a guided meditation or to solfeggio tones. The goal of this is
to listen to the breath, get silent, and remind myself of the many things to be
grateful for.

Through this practice I’ve discovered some truths. When you’re
sick there’s a lot of time to think. Perhaps too much time. Too much in your
head and not enough in your heart. In mindfulness practices during a COVID diagnosis
and recovery, these themes emerged:

Fear of the unknown – general fear.

Lack of trust due to unresolved trauma. 

Despair over my own sense of entitlement and how my own actions
have their own ripple effect that may not be in anyone’s best interest.

How interconnected we all are.

One moment in particular stands out. I was on the couch with my
husband. When we are snuggled, it’s a form of mindfulness practice. Over time
our breathing rhythms sync. Everything gets quiet. In this moment, I feel truly
safe. It’s in this moment that I notice a pain in my heart. What is this?
I invite this pain to sit and tell me about itself. It’s in my heart centre.
It’s not despair. It’s not sadness. Breathe into it. Allow. Listen.

It’s heartache. Heartache over COVID. Heartache for the millions
who are suffering from COVID, displacement, unemployment, tragedy,
disenfranchisement, systemic racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia.
Heartbreak over the divisiveness of our country. Heartbreak over hatred. Heartbreak
over my own internalized isms. 

In that moment of acknowledgement, I notice that the pain in my
heart has subsided. I take another breath. The pain continues to subside
and floats away. 

There are other realizations that have occurred during this COVID
diagnosis and its immediate aftermath. All of which came through when I paused,
got still, listened, leaned in, and practiced loving kindness and compassion
towards myself. Some of these realizations were around fear. Some were around
my own internalized ableism (a mark of success is to work from home while being
sick?! What?!). 

Ripples Of Sunlight

The largest realization was my own privileged, entitled white
woman attitude. How cavalier to think that something like COVID won’t happen to
you, or to someone you love. That you’re above reproach. I’m leaning into
this through mindfulness, leaving guilt, shame, and blame behind. Genuinely
acknowledging these elements of myself, and making the choice to let them go.
The choices that you make today have far reaching consequences for days, weeks,
months, and years to come. We are all interconnected. Our actions have ripple
effects that go beyond ourselves, our egos. Being mindful of this, my life
will never be the same. 

For which I am grateful.


Check out Hillary’s website: www.hillaryhelpsulearn.com

Twitter: @hillarygfphdatp

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How Mindfulness Transformed My Life

Autumn Leaves - Alaska

by Anshul Kamath

A little over 4 years ago, I decided to take one of the
biggest decisions of my life. I quit my job in London working in Finance for
one of the world’s largest energy companies and moved back to India where I
grew up. After years in the rat race and a completely hectic and unhealthy
schedule, I decided it was time to pause and evaluate what I really wanted from
life.

Within a few weeks of moving back, through a pure moment of
serendipity, I ended up attending a 2 day workshop on mindfulness and
neuroscience. Those 2 days were magical – for the first time I learnt about how
I function as an individual, how my mind works and, perhaps most importantly, I
learnt about mindfulness as a tool to use on a daily basis. We covered some
simple techniques of becoming aware of the moment through breathing and
practices such as mindful walking.

My life was extremely fast-paced and that was mirrored by the
pace of thoughts in my mind. Mindfulness became the antidote to that for me.
While I wanted to pause in my career and reevaluate things, mindfulness became
a mini version of that for me everyday. A chance to pause for a few moments and
enjoy the moment, a chance to become aware of my thoughts, body and what I was
sensing.

Deepening my practice

Over the next few months, some of my regular mindfulness
practices on a daily basis were as below:

  • Mindful walking: I started taking short breaks from my desk at work and would head out for a short walk. I would leave my phone behind at my desk to charge while I just enjoyed some fresh air and paid attention to my feet as I walked.
  • Mindful chai: In India, we all love our chai! And I
    found practicing mindfulness with my tea particularly de-stressing. I would
    engage all my senses while having sipping my tea
  • Touching the cup and feeling the heat in my fingertips
  • Smelling the aromas of the tea and inhaling the
    flavours
  • Paying special attention to the tastes and hints of
    spices such as ginger or cardamom
  • Listening to any sounds in my mouth or throat as I
    drank the tea
  • Sensory mindfulness: This is something I would do for a
    few minutes at my desk to recharge myself. Taking a few minutes to look around the
    room becoming aware of the space around me as well as any sounds and smells in
    the room. I would follow this with 3 deep breaths.

Starting to see the
benefits!

cold outlook

All of these exercises above were less than 5 minutes of my
time but really effective ways for me to practice some mindfulness everyday and
give my mind a short break! I also noticed a big difference in my own outlook
towards life. I started becoming more relaxed on a daily basis and able to see
greater clarity in my own thought process. By nature, I tend to be very edgy
and often appear nervous and anxious when facing situations. The last few years
have seen a big change in my demeanor and this has also been pointed out to me
by close friends. I’ve slowly made it a habit when taking decisions or
confronting situations to look at the larger picture and embrace a decision
whole heartedly. This is not a change that’s come easily but simple things like
taking 3 deep breaths when I’m feeling edgy or trying to see the worst case
scenario and embrace it have helped me.

Another big revelation for me through mindfulness was slowly
becoming more aware of my body. For the first time in my life, I was able to
identify moments when I had overeaten or times when my upper back started
showing signs of stress because I was sitting in a poor posture. Taking a few
moments to become aware of my body and my state played a big role in this and
after a few months, it became more of a subconscious habit. At the end of each
day before sleeping, I usually take 12 deep breaths following a ‘pranayama’
technique I learnt at a mindfulness retreat. Along with focusing on the breath,
you also pay attention to the entire body when breathing – when you breathe in
– you scan your body from your toes moving upwards to your head. And when you
breathe out, you reverse the scan starting with your head downwards. With slow,
deep breathing, this entire process lasts for at least 5-6 minutes which is a
great way to become aware of the body and breath.

Mindfulness and
physical health

Mindfulness has also helped me more recently through an
extremely challenging period in my life with my health. Two years ago, I was
diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and an underlying leaky gut. For those
of you familiar with autoimmune conditions and diseases, you will be aware that
these conditions generally have no cure, they can be maintained through factors
such as your diet, sleep and mental wellbeing.

The first year was really tough for me. My immune system
started attacking my inner cheeks and gums and the inflammation resulted in
several ulcers in my mouth that would often last over a month. While it’s
painful physically, it was even more challenging mentally. Not being able to
control the situation and being subject to random flare ups in my body used to
cause me a lot of anxiety which further compounded the situation.

This is where meditation and mindfulness has really helped me.
Constantly being able to stay in the moment and remind myself that these kinds
of flare ups are temporary and will also pass. It isn’t easy at all to change
the narrative in your mind from being a victim of a medical condition to
accepting and embracing it. It took me months of daily meditation and trying to
rewire the thoughts in my head to get there.

Hands

My condition is chronic and I still have periods of severe
inflammation and flare ups. However, I have first hand seen a correlation
between the times when I meditate regularly and my physical health and
inflammation. Research has also backed this by showing how mindfulness helps reduce
cortisol and stress in the body, which is a big contribution to inflammation in
the body.

These practices really helped me move towards my goal of
leading a healthier and more balanced life.

Moving from practicing
myself to helping others

In 2018, as I deepened my practice of mindfulness, I also
started connecting with meditation teachers and wellness experts; and together
we started facilitating mindfulness and personal growth workshops for working
professionals. Over the course of 2 years, I facilitated workshops for over 600
individuals and right from college students to CEOs, mindfulness seemed like a
practice with a universal appeal. We all know that practices like mindfulness
are the need of the hour in today’s lightning fast world. But actually seeing
it helping people was extremely satisfying for me.

About a year ago, I finally decided that this is something
that gave me immense satisfaction and I committed the next 5 years of my life
towards helping people with mental wellbeing and personal growth. I launched a
startup called Evolve and our mission is to make mental wellbeing simple and
joyful! And mindfulness is a big part of it!


Anshul Kamath is the founder of Evolve.

You can visit their
website at
https://www.evolveinc.in/ or download the app at:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=in.evolve.android or

https://apps.apple.com/in/app/evolve-joyful-personal-growth/id1515433542

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