The Art of Mindfulness – to Reduce Stress and Boost Contentment
I asked Shanessa’s daughter, who is 17, what are the secrets to greater happiness. She gave me a quick list:
• More freedom. My parents are too strict.
• More friends ‘liking’ my posts on Facebook.
• Live more like the models and superstars in the checkout mags and on TV.
• Date more often.
• Nicer car.
• More movies and less schoolwork.
• An iPad.
At the other end of the age spectrum, I asked a heart doctor, who is probably 70 and jogs several times each week. He said Mindfulness was one secret for destressing and happiness. When I asked what Mindfulness was, he gave an example. When you first taste a glass of wine, you comment on it. Wow, this is wonderful stuff. Slight fruity flavor. Not too sweet. And so on. But that’s the end of it. No more comments during subsequent sips of wine. Noticed it initially, but then moved on to talk about your kids or your job or sports.
I do Mindfulness when I go hiking.
I try to notice everything. Last evening I hiked with a group to a frozen waterfall. The man I was with climbed around this amazing sheet of ice to look and touch and marvel at it from every angle. Acting like a kid. Taking photos. He later told me that a big city can overwhelm you, suck out the life. He likes to get away from it to experience being alive.
The cover of the latest Time Magazine is labeled The Mindful Revolution. Here I make a summary of the salient points of the article**:
• A course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and Ph D in molecular biology.
• Based on meditation, it helps to quiet a busy mind, become more aware of the present moment, deal with stress, and cope with anxiety and depression.
• The course avoids any talk about spirituality.
• Wisdom 2.0 is an annual Mindfulness conference for tech leaders in Silicon Valley.
• Some companies use the course to free up mental space for creativity and big thinking.
• Early on, Kabat-Zinn found that Mindfulness immediately reduced chronic pain in some folks. For others the pain remained the same but they were better able to handle the stress of living with illness.
• Scientists have proved that Mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, and increase immune response.
• After he took a Mindfulness course Tim Ryan, a US congressman, published a book called A mindful Nation.
• One Mindfulness technique is called ‘aimless wandering’ where participants walk around for 30 minutes. No phones. No Talking. Just be present.
A new book called Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson calls for installing positive moments in our lives, rather than capitulating to negative cravings. This leads to contentment. But before you can install them, you have to notice them which leads back to Mindfulness. Hanson thinks gratitude is a key, and below is an excerpt by him on this subject which I found helpful.
Saint Paul in the Bible talks of thanking God all the time (see quote below), so it appears he was ahead of the Mindfulness trend.
My psychologist says a little worry is good in that it can lead to focus, accelerate problem-solving, and increase productivity. But too much worry can lower productivity, as we become stressed and ineffective or even a basket case. He drew a bell-shaped curve to illustrate this. Jesus said not to worry unduly, instead trust God (see quote below), so he was ahead of the game also.
Finally, Dr Weil says internal contentment is what we should aim for, because happiness is external and fleeting…… it comes and it goes.
I am often struck by the ancient truths of the Bible, especially how smart men and women in our time keep coming up with these truths, and then write bestsellers which elaborate on them!
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew, chapter 6)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians, chapter 4).
** The Art of Being Mindful by Kate Pickert, Time, February 3, 2014
A Meditation on Gratitude, by Rick Hanson.
Set aside a quiet time during which you can reflect on some of the many things you could be thankful for. As a starting point, you might read the passage below to yourself or out loud, adapting it to your situation as you like.
There really is so much to be thankful for.
I am grateful to my friends. For their good qualities, for the good things they have done for me. For the ways they are fun, for the good times we’ve had.
I am grateful for my children for the delight and love they bring, for the sweet smell of their hair and the soft touch of their skin. For the first time they smiled at me or walked into my arms.
For the meaning they bring to life. For receiving my love and lessons. For being their own persons, for giving me their own love and lessons. Having them at all is a miracle, and the rest is details.
I appreciate myself. For the love I have given to others, for all the conversations had, for all the helpful acts toward others, for all the dishes done. For the long hours I’ve worked, the hoops I’ve jumped through to keep all those balls up in the air. For the efforts I’ve made, the many times I’ve stayed patient, the many times I’ve found more to give inside when I thought I was empty.
I appreciate my lovers and mates, past and present. I can focus on one of these persons, perhaps my spouse or mate if I’m currently in a relationship, and bring to mind the ways he or she has been good to me. I appreciate the fun we’ve had together, the humor and the companionship. I feel grateful for the times of support, understanding, and sympathy. For sweating and suffering too.
I feel thankful for the life I’ve already had, for the good parts of my childhood, for everything I’ve learned, for good friends and beautiful sights. For the roof over my head and the bread on my table, for being able to have a life that is healthier, longer, and freer than most people have ever dreamed of.
For this beautiful world, where each breath is a gift of air, each dawn a gift of light. For the plants and animals that die so I may live. For the extraordinary gifts I carry in each cell of my body, for the capabilities accumulated during three and a half billion years of life’s presence on our planet.
I feel thankful for the wonder of the universe, for all the atoms in my body—the carbon in my bones, the oxygen and iron in my blood—that were born in the heart of a star billions of years ago, to drift through space, to form a sun and planets, to form the hand that holds this piece of paper and the eye that reads this word.
Furthermore, I feel thankful for all that was in order for me to be. For grace, for wisdom, for the sacred, for spirit as I know it. For this moment, this breath, this sight. For every good thing that was, that is, that ever will be.
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Interesting that the scripture you quote is one that has been “in” my spirit for a couple of weeks. Take No Thought eliminates all worry. I can’t even let the least amount of worry enter or else it takes me away. Instead, I have to simply put it into prayer.
When I lived alone, I practiced mindfulness. I’d walk in my neighborhood alone, not going anywhere in particular–just walking and looking and talking to God. Many times I’d walk around my house looking at the pictures on my walls, the way I had it decorated–just being mindful, I guess. I don’t do that now because I’m rarely alone long enough. But I do find time to thank God all the time.
Thanks for sharing this insight, Ian.
Barbara, I loved your “mindful” idea of walking around the house, looking at the pictures on your walls. I’m gonna try that. I used to try to bring back a painting from each place I visited. So If I walk around the house mindfully, this will bring back lovely memories. Thanks.