Mindfulness has been around for a while now although it doesn’t seem to be applied that often. It is about cultivating a state of mind towards being present and experiencing the fullness of a situation / event, despite how aversive it may be. It means not getting bogged down in one’s own feelings and emotions and being able to see things clearly, so one can respond rather than react. We say ‘cultivate’ since it takes time.
Mindfulness is widely recognised as decreasing stress because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system (calm) rather than the sympathetic system (flight or fight). Things like heart rate, galvanic skin response, the production of cortisol all reduce as a result and we accordingly work at a more sustainable rate.
There are a bunch of ‘skills’ i.e. I.A.A.A., which we can learn which hold us in good stead to respond rather than react:
Intention – get clear on what really matters, what we’re endeavouring to do / be and resolve to stick with it.
Attention – with concentration get dedicatedly focussed on and committed to one area, and courageously put aside the myriad of distractions that are part of our working environment. Once done, we see things for what they are, much like what a camera would see, without adding in our ‘home movies’ where we are the star in our show.
Attitude – with equanimity we move forward and tackle the task. Equanimity is the thought flow that happens when we accept ‘it is what it is’. This does not mean we’ll accept mediocrity, but rather we’ll work from where we ‘are’ right now.
Action - we take concerted action and then reflect on it and bask in the satisfaction of having kept a clear head and having achieved a little or a lot of what really matters.
By way of example, Rita, a client who is a do-er, recounted the feeling of ‘overwhelm quite regularly’. She had recently cultivated a ‘balcony’ view about her role, achieved through ‘making herself’ have a three week break without smart phone and laptop. Rita said she was eventually able to disconnect from work and come back recognising that she needs to focus on strategy rather than ‘doing the doing’.
When we talked more about how she achieved this Rita had set herself a clear intention to completely remove herself from work (Intention), she then got focussed on a home carpentry project (Attention), whilst putting aside the disappointment she felt at not having finished off a work assignment, replacing it with a feeling of gratitude towards being able to calve out some head space to do carpentry (Attitude). Armed with this new thought pathway, Rita was able to put her creativity to the test and did really enjoy the ‘timelessness’ of her carpentry project. The dedicated focus on ‘something else’ gave her renewed perspective when she returned to work.
And so far so good, although it’s been just three days. The important thing is that Rita has built triggers for keeping a balcony view. By reflecting on the benefits of a balcony view which include her increased energy and positive relationships, she continues to build her association with her triggers for action. She finds that the disconnect feeling is more likely if she removes herself from from the smartphone and laptop. It takes courage and confidence to do this in the face of a ‘wall of work’. And she is getting there.
Mindfulness takes practice, but is not time-hungry. Like anything we put in the concerted effort / thought, and then when we really need it, it comes naturally, rather than doing it once, and expecting it to just happen.
All of our thoughts are habits and we are gardeners in their cultivation. It’s up to us to tend well. Suffering is optional.