Being mindful is a new science. It is a very simple practice, something we can learn to do – but it’s not easy. In the 1920s, if you told someone you were going running, they probably would have asked, “Who’s chasing you?” Then scientists demonstrated the benefits of exercise and now we all do it – and if we don’t, we feel guilty about it. Right now, meditation is where exercise was decades ago; it’s the next big public health revolution. As a result of new scientific research, meditation is now being adopted by corporations such as Google, elite athletes, the US Marines, European parliaments and members of the US Congress.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation – a simple, scientifically validated exercise for your brain. The good news is that none of us are too Type A to meditate. We can all train our minds. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin and others have been studying mindfulness and its effect on the brain and that is one of the reasons it has entered the mainstream and the corporate world. There are many kinds of mindfulness practices in all religious/spiritual as well as psychological traditions throughout the world. It is both the process as well as the outcome which is mindful-awareness. It begins with simply paying attention – a refined and focused attention to what we are paying attention to with care and respect.
Mindfulness is all the more useful in the culture that we live in now. We are all on overload, we are pressured to perform, there is an onslaught of distracting information which keeps us from interacting face to face with each other. This creates anxiety problems, lack of attention at work, impulsive behaviours, depression, sleep difficulties, etc.
Mindfulness gets us to slow down and be in the moment, where everything is fine. If we can just be there even for a few moments, it really shifts things for us and allows us to set priorities. It creates self-awareness and awareness of others. It doesn’t slow you down out of necessity and it doesn’t necessarily make you happy. But it helps us to figure out which of the many demands on us is important and to pay attention to now. As a US Marine put it, “With mindfulness practice, you don’t lose your edge. You sharpen your edge and learn when to use it and when not to.”