What are you doing this very moment?
It may seem like a silly question, when you, obviously, are reading this piece. Then again, your mind could also be wandering to the kitchen in search of snack options, or back to the office, sifting through deadlines on your desk. You could be distracted by the temperature of the room, thinking about grabbing a cold or hot drink.
At the same time, you could be half-listening to the television or scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed, occasionally hitting the “Like” button.[pq]Masters of multitasking are a product of the digital age, with technology reinforcing the juggling skills of today’s generation.[/pq]
The ability to multitask is an edge to survival in the modern world and has contributed to boosting productivity and pushing the boundaries of human achievement.
While doing more than one thing at a time is necessary in many situations, there are circumstances that call for mindfulness, or being present in the moment—without any distractions.
In a recent symposium on well-being, Rene M. Samaniego, MD, an Associate of Family Psychiatry and Psychology, made a distinction between mindfulness and thinking: “Mindfulness is a lot more powerful than thinking because when we are mindful, we are fully in the present, and when we are in the present, we know what is actually happening. Therefore, we can respond to any situation most appropriately.” By improving one’s focus, the mindfulness approach could aid optimal learning and problem solving.
Mindfulness also reduces stress and facilitates healing. The eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program initiated in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been adopted in over 700 mindfulness-based programs in hospitals, medical centers and outpatient clinics across the globe.[pq]Patients of different ages going through anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, or suffering from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and heart disease, are among those referred to the MBSR program.[/pq]
Based on the principle of participatory medicine, MBSR encourages patients to become involved in achieving higher levels of health and well-being—not to replace medical treatment, but to complement it.
Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation and yoga. Whether one is practising sitting, standing or walking meditation, one’s breathing is what anchors a person in the present. Yoga, on the other hand, is “geared towards cultivating physical strength, balance, and flexibility,” explained Dr. Samaniego. It creates “moment-to-moment awareness of the breathing and awareness of whatever sensations are arising.”
While the MBSR program involves different amalgamations of meditation and yoga exercises, Dr. Samaniego noted that practising mindfulness is “not too rigid, so you can practise it any way you want”. The body scan, a form of meditation, is recommended for those who are having difficulty sleeping, are sick in bed, or are experiencing extreme pain. Yoga is encouraged for those who feel tired and stiff and need to revitalize their bodies.
In order to practice mindfulness, Dr. Samaniego shared the “attitudinal foundations” one must adopt. First is non-judgment, or “assuming a stance of impartiality” and observing how judgment is made in one’s mind as it happens. He also advised exercising patience towards oneself, especially in trying to regain focus whenever the mind wanders.
Having a “beginner’s mind” is another attitude for practicing mindfulness that allows one to “see what is happening as if for the first time,” explained Dr. Samaniego. This frees one from “expectations based on past experiences.” Trust in oneself is just as important, as well as “non-striving” or focusing on the present without striving towards achieving specific goals.
One must also learn to accept his or her personal issues squarely, rather than stay in denial, to be able to act on them. As Dr. Samaniego said, “We are more likely to know what we need to do when we have a clear picture of what is actually happening.”
Finally, he emphasized the need to learn to let go, no matter how hard it can be at times.
“Mindfulness,” as Dr. Samaniego pointed out, “is actually a way of being and its purpose is to connect us with our capacity to see and embrace the actuality of things in a way that can be healing and transforming.”
– Therese San Diego