Mindfulness has become a very hot topic and is now consistently featured in mass media. This may be considered a good thing, as more and more of us allow ourselves to become distracted throughout the day by the never-ending onslaught of text messages, emails, and the pings of calendar reminders. Instead of turning off our phones, we persist in peering down at them, and our awareness of the world around us becomes dim and dimmer as the pull of our technological devices becomes ever stronger. The important solution to our loss of presence and control is the willingness to take on a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness may be practiced in many forms, including breath awareness, guided imagery, and meditation. All methods are effective to the extent that we are consistent in our practice. A person may derive as much benefit from one form of mindfulness practice as from another, and one should trust one’s instincts regarding the specific method with which to begin.
The primary benefit of mindfulness practice, of course, is the generation of awareness.1,2 It’s so easy to let the hours of the day slip by without any real sense of what is occurring. By the time we get ready for bed, we often think, “where did the day go?” As days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, we may quickly have the experience of our lives slipping away, of losing control of the content and quality of our lives. The ongoing rush of the stream of time cannot be stopped, but we can subjectively slow things down dramatically by increasing our levels of awareness.
For example, when a Major League Baseball player is consistently seeing the ball well and spraying hits to all portions of the ballpark, his coach will say the player has “slowed the game down.” The player himself will say, “when I’m in the groove, I feel like I can see the seams on the ball.” Such an experience is that of heightened awareness. All of us have had the experience, after some sort of meaningful life event, that we were much more aware of the colors of the sky, trees, and flowers, and the songs of our neighborhood birds were much brighter and sweeter. At such times, we’re able to notice, in great detail, the things that are actually going on all around us.3 For a brief while, our enjoyment of and participation in life becomes that much greater. We may even notice, regretfully, the loss of that expanded sense of being once it has faded away. Engaging in mindfulness practice is the key to obtaining and enhancing self-awareness. In this way, we are enabled to become healthier, happier, and more effective human beings.
1. Brown KW, et al: Mindfulness Enhances Episodic Memory Performance: Evidence from a Multimethod Investigation. PLoS One 2016 Apr 26;11(4):e0153309. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153309. eCollection 2016.
2. Bilevicius E, et al: Banks JB, et al: The protective effects of brief mindfulness meditation training. Conscious Cogn 2015 May;33:277-85. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.01.016. Epub 2015 Feb 10.
3. Altered Neural Activity Associated with Mindfulness during Nociception: A Systematic Review of Functional MRI. Brain Sci 2016 Apr 19;6(2). pii: E14. doi: 10.3390/brainsci6020014.