July 16, 2011

Are You Ready For The Mindfulness Revolution?

Part One.

This summer I found myself captivated by an unexpected page-turner: The Mindfulness Revolution, edited by Barry Boyce, published recently by Shambhala.

It’s a collection of articles by eminent meditation teachers, thinkers, scientists, and academics who share their lifetime personal and professional experience with mindfulness: Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, Daniel Siegel, Matthieu Ricard, Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron, to name a few.

It’s an incredibly thought-provoking read; so much so that I’ve decided to use it to write a series of articles on mindfulness and its daily life applications this summer in Elephant Journal.

Why A Revolution?

Over the last few years, mindfulness has become one of the biggest buzz words in mind-body and psychology matters. This popularity comes from the undeniable achievements of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program created by Jon Kabat Zinn more than three decades ago. In his introduction to The Mindfulness Revolution, Barry Boyce, the editor of the book, explains the growing success of mindfulness by quoting Margaret Cullen, a MBSR teacher:

There are hundreds of research papers on the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on physical and mental conditions including, but not limited to depression and relapse prevention, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, insomnia, chronic pain, psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, HIV, cancer, and heart disease.’

Also, recently, scientific studies have evidenced the effects of meditation on the brain:

‘As Matthieu Ricard and Daniel Siegel indicate in the pieces excerpted in part 3 of this book, science has indeed confirmed that the brain is “plastic” or changeable throughout life and that mindfulness and other forms of meditation help the brain change—even grow—in positive ways.’

Mindfulness was initially applied to medicine but has now drawn the attention of all types of professional fields -sports, law, business, politics- who have adapted this practice to their own purposes.

In other words, these days everybody wants a piece of mindfulness.

It Will Not Be Televised.

Mindfulness as a revolution however is not particularly sexy, it can even sometimes appear slightly austere, because the approach is rather sober. To pay tribute to late Gil-Scott Heron; it will not be televised, it won’t make your bum look good in your latest Lululemon pants, or make you lose 5 pounds, it won’t be starred by Madonna or Lady Gaga, it will not trend on Twitter or be broadcasted on youtube.

It just entails doing what we try to avoid doing in so many clever ways, because it can be so paradoxically uncomfortable: to just be.

A Discipline, A Practice, An Art, A Choice Of Life?

We learn from The Mindfulness Revolution that it is a bit of all. Jan Chozen Bays simply explains in her introductory article ‘What is Mindfulness?’:

‘Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself (in your body, heart, and mind) and outside yourself in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without judgement or criticism.’

In the next article, ‘Is Mindfulness For You?’ , there is a cautionary notice however; although the practice is simple, it is not an easy one. There are no need for complex instructions, you only need to pay attention to your breath and your body; but the difficulty lies in the turbulent nature of the flow of our ever-so busy minds. It’s a tricky task indeed to let go of the most die-hard habits of our minds, especially in our information-overload times where the voids created by boredom and silence seem to echo failure and anguish.

We are more than ever attached to the constant chatter of our and other’s minds and we carry around the technology that will make sure we will stay connected to this noise all the time. How easy is it to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude when every item of news or non-news is disseminated and commented on over the web in the blink of an eye?

How can one stay in the moment when we are planning our next three moves, ten clicks, two meetings, and our next meal?

Mindfulness seems utterly counter intuitive in an era that makes little room for the contemplative. It is an art to cultivate that takes skill, practice, creativity and dedication. However, mindfulness is that patient gentle nudge that can change our daily lives in many ways.

Mindfulness Daily

Everyday life offers countless chances to practice mindfulness. I was particularly amused by Karen Maezen Miller’s honest and witty approach in her article ‘Do Dishes, Rake Leaves’, where she takes the practice of mindfulness to her backyard, her kitchen and her laundry basket: ‘Laundry presents a mountainous practice opportunity because it provokes a never-ending pile of egocentric resistance.’

The Mindfulness Revolution explores many aspects of life, from the laundry basket to music, art, food, money, ageing, chronic pain, addiction recovery, parenthood but also about our relationship to others, and to the world.

I will be writing more about this invaluable book and some of these matters over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you allow me, I would really recommend you find a copy of this endless bag of treats, as each article is as insightful and as delightfully well written as the next. Reading it is in itself a mindful exercise.

Picture credits:

Revolution: www.underconsideration.com – Peter Whitley

Just Breathe: Flickr – chintermeyer

The Mindfulness Revolution: www.shambhala.com

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