In a recent research paper published by the mindfulnessinitiative.org, Jamie Bristow and Rosie Bell identified how mindfulness strengthens agency in these challenging times. Their paper focuses on three main outcomes of mindfulness that build agency. The first of these was “perceiving, gathering and processing information”. Drawing on extensive research, they showed how mindfulness builds our capacities in these areas by progressively developing our attention, receptivity and “cognitive resilience”.
By definition, mindfulness involves “paying attention in the present moment” to develop awareness. Mindfulness meditation builds our “awareness muscle” by helping us to overcome distractions while focusing on an anchor. We can become distracted by our own incessant thoughts, our basic drives and the relentless marketing that stimulates our desire to have, hold and enjoy. Through mindfulness, we can progressively regain control over our attention and direct it to more meaningful and healthful endeavours.
In discussing “reclaiming attention”, Jamie and Rosie make the point that what we attend to creates our reality. They draw on the work by cognitive neuroscientist Professor Stanislas Dehaene featured in his 2020 book, How We Learn, when they maintain that what we choose to pay attention to, shapes our inner and outer world – “our brains and our whole reality”.
The lack of paying attention in a meaningful and healthful way can lead to disconnection – a loss of connection to others, meaningful work, and childhood traumas. This disconnectedness, in turn, can result in alienation and loneliness along with depression and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, can help us to train our attention so that we can value our external connectedness, build our inner landscape, and manage difficult emotions.
The paper by Jamie and Rosie reinforce the idea that we have choice – we can choose what we pay attention to and how we pay attention. We can create our own reality – the quality of our life, our health, and our relationships. As we grow in mindfulness, we can build our agency – our capacity to act on our inner and outer world. So, mindfulness will not only help us to realise effective self-care in these challenging times, but also enable us to have the awareness and focus to act wisely in the world for the benefit of others.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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