Cultivating Attention Through Mindfulness

Matthew Brensilver, in a guided meditation provided through MARC UCLA, emphasises the essential character of attention and its role in building our inner and outer awareness while contributing to a life that is fully lived.  In his preliminary discussion as an introduction to his meditation on Attention as Our Most Basic Currency, he highlights the erosion of our attention span, the “fragmentation of our attention” and the resultant turmoil of many lives today. 

In Matthew’s view, mindfulness practice “cultivates attention”, builds resilience and engenders peace and tranquillity.  He suggests that attention is “our basic currency” – it provides the means for us to be fully human and experience life in all its richness.

Distraction creates a low attention span and devalues our “currency”

There are so many things that compete for our attention and distract us from the inherent potentiality of the present moment.  Our everyday behaviours contribute to this erosion of attention. For example, while we are waiting for a bus, a service or a friend, our default is to pull out our phone rather than to take the opportunity to increase our awareness through focused attention.  Our mobile phone leads us down the path of endless distraction – it’s almost an escape route from the reality of our daily lives. 

We might feast on the news, get lost in the external (but empty) validation provided by social media “likes” or explore the endless trails offered by disruptive advertising.  This simple device that has become known as “Wireless Mass Distraction” (WMD) erodes the power of focused attention and reduces the opportunities to grow in inner and outer awareness.  The obsession with “selfies” via the phone is an emerging social behaviour that intensifies the power of phones to be a source of mass distraction and to create a low-attention-span culture.

Distraction is used as a way to free us from boredom, rather than embrace it and savour the freedom it provides.  So, instead of taking the opportunity to harness our attention and grow our awareness, we resort to activities that take our mind elsewhere and fragment out attention and diminish our attentional power.

Mindfulness practice and attention

While there are numerous mindfulness practices and meditations, Matthew suggests that mindfulness, in essence, is “paying attention to our lives”. This allows us to accept “what is” (with all its challenges and imperfections) and to experience the richness of our life more fully.   Distraction, on the other hand, fragments our attention and blinds us to our inner and outer reality.  It’s almost like we are constantly running away from what is within us for fear that we may not like what we see. 

Mindfulness practice enables us to pay attention to – to face up to – what we are really thinking and feeling, the expression of these thoughts and feelings through our bodily sensations and the impact we are having on others.  Through mindfulness practice, we can learn how our past plays out in the present.  It also enables us to draw on the healing power of nature, the personal empowerment of appreciation and gratitude and the stillness that enables us to access and grow our creativity.

As we cultivate our attention and grow in mindfulness, we are better able to experience the richness of our human existence, enjoy greater peace and harmony and access our endless inner resources to meet the vicissitudes of our daily lives.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness and the Mind-Body Connection

Dr. Cheryl Rezek, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, in her video presentation, What is mindfulness, stresses the connection between mind and body.  She highlights the fact that stress is not only experienced in the mind through perception of threat but also in the body in the form of stomach aches, headaches, pain in the shoulder or other parts of the body and many forms of physical illnesses.  Cheryl draws on neuroscience research to demonstrate the positive impact of mindfulness on the body and the brain.

What is mindfulness?

Cheryl discusses mindfulness in terms of “focus with intention” – designed to become more aware of what is happening inside of us as well as around us. She stresses the role of context in shaping who and what we are.  In her own practice and research, she seeks to integrate insights from biology, sociology and psychology – a holistic perspective on the forces shaping our makeup and the way we experience the world.  For example, like Johann Hari, she sees negative childhood experiences as contributing to the likelihood of experiencing depression in adulthood.  Our social environment – whether family, work or community, in isolation or conjointly – shape our perceptions.  Cheryl’s holistic approach is reflected in her training in the interrelated disciplines of clinical psychology, psychotherapy, play therapy, family therapy and mindfulness.

She reminds us that children are naturally mindful as they negotiate their world – they are curious and open, asking questions, exploring nature and wondering about their own bodily sensations.  I recall recently playing tennis with my grandson in a clearing in a wooded area while my granddaughter sat on the grass and explored everything in her immediate environment- the grass, wildflowers, leaves and anything that wriggled or moved.  Her attention was totally focused for an hour on whatever she could see, touch or smell.

Applications of mindfulness

In her presentation, Cheryl discusses the numerous applications of mindfulness – from dealing with chronic pain to managing mental illness.  Her own writings reflect this diversity of mindfulness applications.  For instance, she talks about how mindfulness can help people manage contracting cancer and undergoing treatment – her ideas are explained in her book, Managing Cancer Symptoms: the Mindful WayShe also discusses the application of mindfulness to dealing with Anxiety and Depression.

Cheryl stresses the importance of seeing mindfulness in its broadest context – not confined to the act of meditation but extending to being mindful in our everyday activities such as walking, listening, eating, attending meetings, waiting and washing the dishes.  She offers an app, iMindfulness on the go, to encourage people to be mindful when in transit or engaging in any of their daily activities.

As we grow in mindfulness, we become aware of the opportunities to be mindful in our everyday activities.  Practice of simple mindfulness activities builds our inner and outer awareness and helps us to better navigate the stresses of life.

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Image – Painting by a Chinese-born artist who experiences the mental health condition of Schizophrenia

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Sustaining Mindfulness Practice with Daily Reminders

Tara Brach maintains that sustained mindfulness practice can lead to the development of natural awareness.  Sustaining mindfulness practice has its own challenges with the constant demand on our time and the pace of life today.  The never-ending time pressures continuously absorb our attention and intensify the pace of our life and leave little time for meditation or other mindfulness practices.  The anomaly is that until we slow down in some small way, we are unable to see the opportunities to be mindful or to create space in our lives. Tara suggests that the way forward is to create regular reminders in our daily life that will serve as catalysts to help us to drop into brief mindfulness practices, whatever form we choose to use at the time.  

Developing reminders to sustain mindfulness practice

In her book,  The Little Book of Being (p.179), Tara provides suggestions for practical reminders that you can employ throughout the day to serve as prompts to engage in some form of mindfulness practice – even if meditation is not a practical option at the time.  The potential reminders are limited only by your imagination – what suits one person will not fit with the lifestyle of another.  Here are some suggestions:

  • You could place paintings as prompts for mindfulness practice and build a strong association between the painting(s) and being mindful.   I have a painting in my office by a Chinese artist, who was supported by MIFQ, which reminds me to “smell the roses”  – to take time out to experience and appreciate nature
  • You could develop the habit of using waiting time as a reminder to default to awareness instead of defaulting to your phone.  In this way, you will be filling-in-time by building a constructive habit that will enable you to better manage the stresses of daily life.
  • Have verbal reminders such as quotes or charts on your wall to remind you of the need to have a mindful moment – e.g. to get in touch with your breathing.  The words you choose are not the key element here, what is important is the meaning you attribute to them and how well they motivate you to stop and take a mindful moment.
  • When walking to a meeting or from the car park to the shops, you can remind yourself that if you slow your walking down you can begin to slow down the pace of your life.  Mindful walking brings lots of benefits.  However, our walking pace tends to reflect the frenetic pace of our lives.
  • Boiling the jug can serve as a reminder to take a few mindful breaths.  This can happen regularly throughout the day and provide the frequency and repetition that supports the development of a positive habit.
  • Leo Babauta suggests that you link drinking a glass of water to some form of self-care. He maintains that self-love is a sadly neglected area of our lives – we are so ready to be critical of, angry with, or disappointed in, ourselves. Leo offers a process for using the act of drinking water as a reminder to express self-love.
  • If you are fortunate enough to observe the sunrise daily, you could use this opportunity as a prompt to be still, develop inner awareness and tap into your creativity.

Reminders strategically placed throughout our day can help us to grow in mindfulness and associated natural awareness.  These can prompt us to take time out for a mindful moment and can also anchor us during the turbulence of the waves of daily life.

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Image: Sunrise at Wynnum, Queensland 24 July 2019

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

When You are Waiting, Have Awareness as Your Default and not Your Phone

When we are kept waiting, we typically grab our phone to “fill in the time”.  We might check emails or social media or the latest news; our default is our phone, not taking the opportunity to develop awareness.  One of Diana Winston’s students told her that when he was waiting or had time on his hands, he no longer defaulted to his phone, but “defaulted to awareness”.  Diana Winston addresses this process in her book,  The Little Book of Being (p.184).

Default to awareness

When we are kept waiting for a bus to arrive or to see the doctor/dentist, or are stalled in traffic, we feel bored or ill at ease.  We can become agitated, annoyed or even angry – all of which can negatively impact our subsequent interactions with others. To alleviate this discomfort, we often resort to the phone as our default response.  However, the “waiting time” provides the perfect opportunity to further develop awareness.  The opportunities for this positive response are seemingly endless. During the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Program that I attended in Sydney, one of the participants reported that they practised mindful awareness whenever they waited for the jug to boil when making a cup of tea or coffee.  The participant reported that by building this habit into something he does on a regular basis, he was able to develop awareness as a part of his everyday activities.

Diana suggests that the way to drop into awareness instead of reaching for your phone is to begin by focusing on your feet.  You can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor or the ground and be conscious of this “grounding”.  You can then progress to getting in touch with your breathing and rest in the space between breaths.  This can be followed by a brief or elongated body scan (the duration of the scan depending on how long you have to wait).  You can then explore points of tension in your body and release the tension or soften the muscles involved.  If you are experiencing negative thoughts and/or feelings, you will inevitably feel tense in some part of your body – noticing and releasing tension develops your awareness.  If you begin to adopt these mindfulness practices on different occasions when you are waiting, you will find that you will “default to awareness” naturally – your phone will not be your “first port of call”.

If we use our waiting time as a conscious effort to grow in mindfulness, we can develop the habit of dropping into awareness, instead of reaching for our phone. We can explore either inner or outer awareness and develop our capacity for self-regulation and gratitude, as well as build calmness and equanimity in our lives.  Defaulting to our phone, on the other hand, increases the pace of our life and can intensify our agitation.

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Image by Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.