Dr. Joseph Sebastian introduces us to ways in which we can practise mindfulness in our lives.

Mind your own business is oft heard – but what about MIND your own LIVING. We are good at minding most things except ourselves and our living. If one were to closely observe the animal kingdom – they are always alert, fully mindful of their surroundings. Not only does this help them survive the wild but it helps them enjoy the best of it too, thereby evolving, making the best use of their talents.

So why are humans different? In general humans through evolution have moved away from their close-to-nature, nomadic and rustic living by settling down and farming. This along with developments in the last two centuries with industrialisation and urbanisation providing the comforts and ease of living, has made mindfulness uncommon.

In the 70s, 80s and early 90s when television was the only common screen at homes, parents were advised to keep children away from TV sets (at least 6 feet was what moms said) and then advertisements. The key reason was because the duration of an advertisement was short, our brains were jumping from one to another far too quickly for our own good.

With the explosion of information technology and advent of unlimited and seamless smart connectivity, the whole process has only exploded and challenges compounded manifold. This makes it very difficult to monitor, retrain and channelise appropriately, in tune with holistic development of a child; more critically, pushing us into a lifestyle where the present is just not present. Human attention span is fast decreasing, research points to a 30% reduction in the last 20 years. One of the main reasons for this is the explosion of information – anytime, anywhere. So much that getting out of this massive information traffic jam is in itself a huge challenge.

What does this make of humans? We have more at our fingertips, connect globally seamlessly – but how much of all this contributes to fruitful living?  If we analyse social interactions and humans in general – we are more stressed, more distracted, more irritated, less patient; direct in-person connections are reducing, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is increasing … the list goes on. The Covid pandemic with its lockdowns and restrictions has only added to this misery. With new online and hybrid education methodology, even small kids have access to IT– making living tougher.

In general, humans have a deep desire for a more healthy life. Wellness, natural living and healing, proactive and preventive health measures are being explored more. This is evident from the increase in the number of people accessing alternative health care systems.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus asks us not to worry. In verse 34 as a conclusion he strongly urges, ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’. Christ does not say that there won’t be troubles but he says please only worry about today.  Today’s world has two extremes – either we worry too much (just about everything) or are not bothered (indifferent). One way to get out of this is to be present in the PRESENT – mindful living. So one has to move from minding other businesses to mindful living.

What is Mindfulness? It is defined1 as moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. Though an ancient way of living, this 2,500-year-old Buddhist philosophy made its modern world debut in the late 1970s. Jon Kabat-Zinn2 has been tagged as the founder of mindfulness. He founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill. However mindful living is obtaining more traction as people try out new ways to handle the stress they are exposed to.

In today’s world, children and adults alike are more prone to relate to realities beyond their immediate attention, living more in the past or future than in the present. Mindful living seeks to achieve three major focal areas – cultivate awareness of immediate surroundings and return to it repeatedly, preventing the mind to wander; to be alive in the present – your thoughts, feelings and sensations as they occur (acknowledge reality as it is, than interpretations and comparisons); and finally to accept them as they are in a non-judgemental attitude, with a sense of curiosity. Indeed all humans are born this way – observe a 3 to 6-month-old child – s/he lives in the present in a non-judgemental way and the attention is only to the immediate.  All emotions and reactions of the child are directly related to the five senses, they do not have masks and they do not pretend.  But as they grow this changes, unfortunately.

Mindfulness is a way of living and there are several exercises one can practice to achieve. Like all things new, this will take some time to get used to and one has to be consistent and persistent at it. More than the exercises, it’s a way of life and learning how to be present in the moment.

For those who have not been used to any form of meditation this may be a bit tough to begin with. For, being mindful starts with being quiet, establishing some element of concentration, observing inner thoughts and how they flow, our emotions and all changes (even minor ones) in the body. All these in a non-judgemental way – we do not attribute them as good or bad; right or wrong – just the changes in our body and the immediate physical world around us.

So how to go about being mindful. It is interesting that mindful living can start anywhere, anytime, even right now. For beginners, though, a quiet place away from the buzz is appropriate. However, in the long run it is most beneficial if practised daily, early in the morning as you start your day. Well Jesus did that way; Mark 1:35 – In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

A few tips to mindful living. (Note to designers – please separate this below portion from the article by different colour scheme.)

Switch off to switch on: Switching off our media connect could be the first step. Most time-consuming and mentally engaging for most people is media in general and social media in particular. Naturally one cannot switch off during the day. But at night you can schedule downtimes. Most mobile phones have this facility. If fully switching off the mobile is not possible, can the data connections be turned off?

Early morning times: The best time to practice mindfulness is early morning when distractions are least. Try and get your personal place where you can spend time being mindful.

Meditation: All modes of meditation are good for enhancing mindfulness. What is important is to grow into increased silence and quietness as you practice more. One may start with 5 minutes and slowly increase the time. But it’s critical to do it daily and as much as possible around the same time.

Morning coffee/tea/glass of water: Another option is to sip your first coffee/tea/glass of water slowly, delay each sip as much as possible. Do not use this time to read the newspaper or check your email/WhatsApp. Just slowly enjoy the coffee and be mindful of yourself and your surroundings. As in all cases, do not judge any sense or stimulus.

Slowing break: We all take washroom, tea and lunch breaks. One needs to have slowing breaks This is just slowing down during the day, again being mindful of what is happening around and to yourself. Also it’s only when we slow down do we see properly. This can be done at home, in office or outside – a slow leisurely drive is a good exercise, a stroll in the park, slow walking in a natural surrounding is very good.

Minimise Multi-tasking: Though it may be good to multi-task and especially for those who can do it well, this is not very good for mindful living. Try to focus on one activity at a time to be more mindful.

Less is more: We know the story of the monkey who grabbed a fistful of nuts from the jar. This is what generally happens to all who want their vessels full and bursting to the brim. To be mindful, less is always more. It’s better to excel in few than just try to do many things. Try to work out your priorities and your essentials and minimise the rest.

Know what you eat: The concept of fast food came with our busy life. Pick and eat on the way; luncheon and breakfast meetings all these take us away from knowing and acknowledging what we eat. For a good mind and soul, a healthy body is important and for that, healthy eating and knowing what you eat. If not eaten properly even food can be detrimental.

Hobby: It’s good to take on a hobby – which is very rare these days.  Hobbies closer to nature, reading, music – anything that directly stimulates most of our five senses, if not all are beneficial for being mindful.

Exercise: All modes of exercises which are focused can bring in mindfulness. But the key part is being present in the moment and being mindful of your body and mind.

Remove distractions: Just as less is more so is removing all distractions from your immediate neighbourhood. Most importantly your mobile phone. Pick your phone and remove one app that you do not need right now – a small action is better than a thousand wishful thinking.

Explore: One way to stay curious is to explore. Don’t be afraid to start anything new. When we start something new, we explore, we are curious, and it’s joyful to be curious.

Dreams and what next: We are all told to have dreams and one should have them. But for mindfulness to bloom, dreams have to be broken down to micro-action points and built step by step. There may have to be phases when speed and rush is needed, but try and get back to the mindfulness, one step at a time.

Let go of expectations: Expectations are a slow killer of mindfulness. If it happens, nothing new and if it does not, we feel saddened. When there are no expectations everything is nice. Maybe we can try to minimise expectations.

Learn to let go: Living in the past is another killer of mindful living. One needs to move on. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32).

And finally Serenity: It’s the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.  Recite and practice the serenity prayer daily: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

1 Daphne M. Davis, PhD, and Jeffrey A. Hayes, PhD: What are the benefits of Mindfulness; https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner

2 Jon Kabat-Zinn is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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