If you have been reading my previous posts, you would have noticed the word “mindfulness” often. Mindfulness is the practice of observing, noticing, becoming aware, and being in the present moment in a non-judgmental way. It’s watching and accepting the here and now as is.
Mindfulness can be elusive to begin with, but it’s become even more difficult with technology. Many of us live busy, highly connected lives. Our jobs demand so much of us during our waking hours and when we are off-work–if that happens–we are busy checking our emails, texting, and catching up on social media feeds and news headlines that have flooded into our phone’s notification panel. To disconnect from our phone, tablet, computer or TV can feel like a visceral disconnection from the rest of the world. I’ve often heard from people who left their home without their cellphone say, “I feel naked”.
Marshall McLuhan, the renowned philosopher often quoted for saying “The medium is the message,” (1967/2001) saw this coming in the 60s. He thought that we become what we behold: humans have invented the tools we hold in our hands and the tools will come to shape us. The constant stream of information coming through our phones or our smart watches has taken a hold of many of us–our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
So what does all of this have to do with mindfulness? Being constantly plugged in to our devices comes to shape the way we think, feel, and have bodily sensations. When we read content that provokes fear and anxiety (e.g., COVID-19 situation resulting in thousands of deaths), we become anxious. We hear news that is upsetting–say, our leaders not taking coronavirus seriously) and we say, “I am angry”. The thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations come to define us as we become enmeshed with them when in fact, we are the conscious container for them (Hayes, 2005), not the actual experience.
Add to the mix the pain we experience as humans like depression, anxiety, physical pain, grief, loneliness or some other challenging situation, life can get pretty difficult. So what do most of us do? We try to avoid, hide, distract ourselves, and pretend that the pain is not there. This strategy might work for a short period, but when we aren’t taking care of the wound, the wound can deepen resulting in a bigger problem.
To illustrate this point, we can turn to Little Prince:
So, mindfulness is about being fully aware–facing what is present even when it is unpleasant and difficult. Seeing unpleasant feelings, thoughts, memories or experiences as they are, clearly and watchfully, means that you’ll be in much better shape to nip them in the bud before they progress to bigger, persistent, intense forms of pain.
Facing our demons takes huge courage, but it’ll be worth it. Carl Jung (2009) said, “If you comprehend the darkness, it seizes you. It comes over you like the night with black shadows and countless shimmering stars. Silence and peace come over you if you begin to comprehend the darkness. Only he who does not comprehend the darkness fears the night.”
Mindfulness is one way to approach the problem of human pain and suffering. It is an attitude of turning towards, exposing, facing, shedding light on, and seeing it for what it is. It is also about creating space, distancing, externalizing, and de-centering so that the monster is off your back, so to speak. The attitude is one of curiosity, non-judgment, and acceptance. The motto is: “It is what it is!”
More immediately, mindfulness is also about bringing the mind and the body together. By being more aware and attuned to here and now, mindfulness practice can help you live a more attentive, appreciative and vibrant life.
Internet has allowed access to so much content at the tip of our fingertips. Below, I’ve put together a list of mindfulness guided practices from sources that I trust. Instead of creating a guided practice myself, I will play the role of the curator in presenting you with good (free!) material. As you try out these practices, please note that for some people, turning toward difficulty can result in a worsening of symptoms which can be overwhelming. It’s important that you have access to medical or psychotherapy support in case this happens.
From the Oxford Mindfulness Centre
From the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
From the Centre for Mindfulness Studies (longer sessions)