What is Mindfulness? Part 1

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen

(TORONTO, ON) – Mindfulness is a term you will be hearing about more and more as it is now being integrated into school curriculums throughout North America. The term is North American, but the actual practice has elements of Buddhism, Zen, and Taoist beliefs.

Just think of it being repackaged for North Americans who lack spirituality ,particularly with the decline of traditional religion and the rise of materialism.

In a nutshell, Mindfulness teaches you to recognize the working of your mind, watch for patterns of thought, not to get tangled up in them and, perhaps most importantly, not to immediately react to situations and to take a moment to size it up before determining how to deal with it.

There are many Mindfulness books out there with a loosely allied similarity.

Mindfulness courses may be offered by private promoters or, in some cases, by hospitals, with the sales pitch being to reduce stress and anxiety and to be free of the inner voice. If listened to it will cause your slavery and unhappiness.

Is Mindfulness simply another self help fad? I think not based on my own personal experiences.

It can be a liberating force in the way you think, your awareness of what is going on around you, and how your interpretation and response to situations can be self defeating.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a 4-week Mindfulness course offered by Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. This was not a sit and listen course, but a very participatory programme. This was an experimental compact version of their usual eight week course.

The Sunnybrook course was broken into four modules requiring three hour attendance for each. The modules were entitled Cultivating Awareness, Relating to Experience/Reacting or Responding, Caring for Ourselves, and Making Moments.

Each class began with five minutes of stretching to nourish the body, several sessions of guided meditation, and a group discussion based on each participant’s personal experiences that related to each of the four modules.

There was homework each day consisting of;

  1. Stretching to nourish the body and create awareness of one’s own body.
  2. Meditating for a minimum of 10 minutes. You could always meditate on your own or with the assistance of a couple of guided meditation videos on You Tube. The goal seemed to be to let the mind freely wander over emotions and experiences without getting trapped and entangled in them. A realization that these thoughts were there was enough.
  3. Applying what you have learnt. If you are aware of the dangers of reacting, as opposed to responding, note that.
  4. Reading and reflecting on the written materials and matters discussed in the classroom.
  5. Tuning in and Tracking. In this you identify where you have responded instead of reacting immediately to the moments of your life.

Now to conclude, in a technical matter Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre describes Mindfulness Based Therapy as a, “… blend of psychological approaches with meditative practices in a secular, clinical context.”

Mindfulness is increasingly being used in the treatment of a wide variety of forms of distress, including general stress, chronic recurrent depression and anxiety, sleep difficulties, chronic pain and other chronic illnesses.

I would say Mindfulness is nothing new, but rather new to North American culture.

Next: What might be some of the take ways from a Mindfulness course?

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen