Have you ever heard of the concept of ‘mindfulness’? At first I dismissed it as a New Age fad, but since then I’ve done some research and discovered that it has many benefits. It’s difficult to explain what mindfulness is, but I’ll give it a shot.
Mindfulness is a type of self-awareness training that grew out of Buddhist meditation. The Black Dog Institute, which works with people with depression, claims that it is good for the treatment of some mental illnesses, “especially preventing relapse and for assisting with mood regulation”. People often describe mindfulness as the state of being in the present and accepting things for what they are in a non-judgmental way.
Mindfulness means you step out of yourself
That’s still a pretty abstract description, so I’ll try to simplify it. Have you seen that old movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze? Remember when he dies and his spirit literally steps outside his body? In some ways mindfulness asks you to do the same thing. You don’t have to envisage yourself stepping out of your body (I guess you could, if it helps). What you really need to do is take an objective look at how you are feeling. You need to step outside yourself and see your emotions truthfully, as though you are assessing another person. For example, if your work colleague seems preoccupied, distracted and blue you might understand her emotional state because her father recently died. If your neighbour is angry and impatient, you might also be forgiving of him because his wife recently divorced him. You need to be able to recognise where you are at and why, and be kind to yourself. You are effectively stepping outside yourself and making sense of your feelings and reactions.
Focus on the here and now
To be mindful you need to focus your attention on the here and now. You have to be aware of where you are and what you are doing and how you are feeling. You have to detach yourself from what is going on around you and go inside yourself – while at the same time looking at yourself from a third-person, non-judgemental perspective. You need to focus on your senses (smells, sights, sounds) and your state of mind. Where are you at? Why are you thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions? Some people believe that being mindful actually helps remodel the workings of your brain – chemical levels return to healthy levels, neurons fire better. Being mindful lights up parts of our brains that are dormant when we’re just running on auto-pilot or stressed. Being mindful is a great form of stress-release.
Depressives fixate on the past, anxious people worry about the future
A 2010 overview of 39 studies on mindfulness “found that mindfulness is an effective treatment for anxiety and mood disorders.” People with depression fixate on the past, whereas people with anxiety worry about the future. “Helping people who have suffered from these things to focus on the moment can help stave off future attacks, and to become aware of, and in control of, negative emotions,” the overview said.
How much does mindfulness have in common with prayer?
To be a high achiever you have to take care of mind, body and soul. I’ve always been a great advocate of meditation and prayer. How much does mindfulness have in common with prayer? To answer this question I’ve looked at two papers written by religious scholars. The first was by Reverend Canon Professor Dorothy Lee from the University of Divinity. Rev Lee points out that the Christian faith has its own long and venerable tradition of meditation and silence. She says that the Christian focus on awareness is very similar to mindfulness but the key difference is that mindfulness is a conversation with yourself, while prayer is a conversation with God. “Christian mindfulness, by definition, is entry into the saving presence of the God,” she writes.
Christianity has a meditative tradition
Rev. Lee believes that Christianity’s meditative tradition has much to teach a world crying out for stillness, depth and serenity about the joys of simply being with God. Prayer or Christian meditation is a way of learning to trust the God. No, I’m not trying to convert you to the faith, but I’ve always said that us Christians have it easier than non-believers, because we are never on our own. We are always in the company of an all-loving, all-powerful force who is on the side of humanity. But Rev Lee makes the intelligent point that meditation and prayer are both forms of a gentle but disciplined self-awareness which is good for body, mind and soul.
The Catholic author Francis Phillips takes a different approach to prayer and meditation. He argues that mindfulness is prayer. He says that Christian meditation “takes you straight into the present moment but on a supernatural level, where all the natural sorrows of life are seen from a divine perspective”. Remember how I initially described mindfulness as stepping outside yourself? Well, whether you believe in God or not, prayer is a way of stepping outside yourself and seeing the world from the perspective of a divine entity. In this way, Francis Phillips has a point – prayer takes you into the moment, but outside of yourself, exactly as meditation does. As the Psalm 46:10 says “be still and know that I am God”.
Do you have time to be still?
Meditating, being mindful or praying is wonderful for you on a spiritual, intellectual and physical well-being. Some people say they don’t have the time to meditate or pray. Can I remind you what the great Martin Luther said: “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” It means that if you want to be fit and prepared for a BIG life, you have to put the work in on yourself. We all need to go inside ourselves and pray or meditate or be mindful (depending on your beliefs).
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.