Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do? ~ Homer Simpson
No doubt by now you’ve heard the word “mindfulness” somewhere. You may not know what it means. Or, you may have a highly disciplined daily practice. Or, you’ve been chiding yourself for not jumping on this particular bandwagon like your ever-so-chilled-out neighbor. Or, you have a subscription to “Mindful” magazine and keep meaning to get around to looking at it, if you only had the presence of mind. This article wanders around the topic of mindfulness. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as: “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” He uses this (let’s call it) “activity” to help people address chronic pain, anxiety, depression, cancer pain, and many other medical issues without use of additional medication. The activity of mindfulness involves sitting quietly for a period of time and just observing what happens without thinking of it as good or bad. Some find this very soothing. Others find it crazy-making. Your mileage may vary, depending on where you’re starting from.
For those who can tolerate it, mindfulness promises these benefits and much, much more:
- Decreases stress levels.
- Enhances your brain’s ability to change (i.e., learn).
- Decreases your brain’s aging process.
- Enhances your alertness, memory, attention, and decision-making abilities.
- Lowers your blood pressure.
- Enhances your immune system, slowing the progression of certain diseases, such as cancer and HIV.
- Reduces your pain.
- Increases awareness of reflexive, emotional reactions that can lead to bad decisions.
- Increases focus, clarity, spaciousness for creativity, and feelings of connection.
Where did “mindfulness” come from? I’m no scholar on this topic, but I understand that someone here in the West took the Eastern concept of “meditation” and both renamed and re-purposed it for public consumption and marketing purposes. “Mindfulness” sounds more generic and less “spiritual,” it seems to me, thus avoiding any stigma or anti-Christian sentiment in Westerners’ minds.
Originally, say for the last five thousand years, meditation was a Hindu, then Buddhist path toward “enlightenment” or at least toward the “relief of suffering.” It was (and is) one of those “fake it til you make it” processes where you make an effort to do something that would come naturally to an “enlightened” or “spiritually awake” person. Keep doing it until you just are it, so to speak. Actually, you could use Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness (see above) as a definition of “enlightenment.” Other examples of this “fake it …” process include the Buddhist suggestion to practice “lovingkindness” or compassion, both of which the spiritually awakened person cannot help but do (or so I’ve been told).
That’s all well and good, you might say, but does it help us make widgets faster and cheaper, or make the sales team more productive in selling them? Does it help our already over-worked, underpaid staff work harder and longer and not mind so much being paid less. As a recent article in Salon claims: “Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill us.” Maybe that’s “Western enlightenment” or something.
Well, anyway, I’ll stop now so you can get back to your mindfulness practice and get whatever you want from it. Namaste!
Copyright 2015 Daniel J. Metevier