Mindfulness is a way of being present: paying attention to and accepting what is happening in our lives. It helps us to be aware of and step away from our automatic and habitual reactions to our everyday experiences. ~Elizabeth Thornton
If you’re a regular reader of Micro of the Macro, you know that I often touch on the subject of mindfulness in my posts. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh and co-founded the Cambridge Zen Center, defines mindfulness as purposeful, nonjudgmental attention placed on the present moment. A more practical explanation, in my opinion, is paying attention as opposed to allowing unconscious behaviors to run your life. We are such creatures of habit that it’s easy to slip into mindlessness. Have you ever driven your car home from work (or vacation!) and later realized you don’t remember the drive? That’s an example of an unconscious habit taking over.
So what does it matter if your life is controlled unconsciously? Well I’m glad you asked. The big-picture answer is that by living in this manner, you are sleepwalking through your time on the planet. Each of our lives takes place within a cosmic embrace of love and blessings, if only we take the time to notice. The sound of crickets, birdsong, ocean waves, a child’s laugh; the sight of butterflies, wildflowers, and a star-lit sky; the smell of blossoming plants; the taste of fresh foods; the gentle touch of a beloved friend: all exquisite details that can be taken for granted or completely missed when we’re in auto-pilot.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver
But there’s more to that answer. Living unconsciously means that you miss out on the profusion of benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health that mindfulness offers. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, over 200 studies have shown that mindfulness is effective at boosting immune function, decreasing chronic pain, reducing stress, and helping with depression. These benefits, the article states, could be due to changes in the brain’s regulation of emotions, resulting in decreased rumination on negative thoughts. Whether you meditate, practice yoga, do tai chi, watch wildlife, work in a garden, or evoke presence in some other manner, you may discover that you’re doing wonders for your health and peace of mind.
UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine shares a write-up addressing mindfulness studies that have shown positive impacts on relationships between couples as well as those between parents & children. Additionally, mindful parenting is . . . linked to more positive behavior in kids, the article says. The reduction of stress through better emotional regulation seems to be a recurring theme.
In a study from Central Michigan University, subjects that listened to mindfulness recordings were found to have decreased age and race biases as compared with control subjects. The practice allows us to rely less on previously established associations, the abstract indicates. To me, this implies that these prejudices can be broken down rather quickly, an idea with great potential for our times.
A US News & World Report article on addiction recovery speaks to the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for reducing substance abuse, including trials that are linked to reductions in impulsivity, cravings, and relapses. A hallmark (of addicts) is that they’re very rarely in the now. They’re either regretting the past . . . or dreading the future, according to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. The practice of mindfulness, therefore, could play an important role. However, as with most holistic modalities, more research is needed before it can be incorporated into standardized treatment.
Fortunately, research on the power of mindfulness is expanding. A Mindful Magazine essay examines the directions of a few of the leaders in the field. Planned studies include exploring the effects of mindfulness on childbirth, neurological development, memory preservation, cellular aging, and inflammation. Perhaps these researchers are working from the premise that our bodies simply function better when we pay attention to our lives. What do you think?
Learning to be present can enrich your existence and improve your health on every level. Awareness of life’s moment to moment offerings can result in big, positive results, helping you to recognize your life’s beautiful cosmic embrace. From reducing stress to strengthening relationships to helping with recovery from addiction, the benefits of mindfulness practices for you and those you love cannot be overestimated.
We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Blessings for Presence,