Mindfulness is a separate faculty of consciousness totally distinct from cognition (thinking), emotion (feelings), intuition or sensory awareness (the 5 senses).
Mindfulness is not about Mystical Religions, awareness or meditation, although many religious and spiritual paths make use of mindfulness techniques. Many therapies and psychotherapies are becoming “mindfulness-based” as it is discovered that all healing methodologies get better results if mindfulness is adjunctively applied. Mindfulness techniques are primarily taught to improve emotional stability, to manage stress, to expand ones intelligence, to become more productive and to lead a more joyful and meaningful life.
Scientific studies have proven that mindfulness involves about 1/5th of the brain, the frontal lobes, as well as other associated structures. Like other skills, such as intellectual, musical or athletic, which are associated with the development of other brain regions, mindfulness can be practiced and improved over time. Educational psychologists are studying mindfulness and devising methods to teach children how to practice and develop this skill. Mindfulness training is being introduced into school curricula around the USA. Future generations will someday be trained to use their whole brain and not just 80% of it.
Mindfulness can be applied to all areas of your life. Listed below are three important life experiences which invite us to be more present and which, if regularly practiced, are guaranteed to get positive results.
1) Eating - Savor each mouthful.
Most people dive into meals without mindfully experiencing the food. Mealtimes are often interspersed with conversation, and whole meals can be eaten without ever taking a single moment to actually taste the food. Mindful eating is generally done in silence, so that the “mind” can be “full” of the eating experience and is not distracted. If you must engage in conversation at mealtimes, finish mindfully chewing, tasting and swallowing your food first, then leave your frontal lobes and engage the part of your brain involved in speech and language processing (temporal lobes). When the conversation is finished, return to deliberately tasting your food, moment to moment, and fully experience this delightful activity. Avoid distractions like TV. Be consumed by the food experience as you consume the food. Savor each mouthful. Tune into the feeling of fullness before your tummy feels like it is ready to explode. Mindfulness is a great tool for portion control.
2) Anger - Take back your power.
Getting your buttons pushed is “normal” because most people have so called “bad days.” But the toll anger takes on our health and mental state, not to mention how it can devastate interpersonal relationships, is abnormal. A fight/flight reaction is entirely appropriate and can save your life in a true emergency, but most of the time anger bubbles up inappropriately and even at the slightest annoyance. The next time you get hot under the collar, interrupt the reaction and take a moment to mindfully feel the sensation of tightness or burning in your abdomen (usually) or your chest and allow yourself to fully experience the sensation for a minute or so. Anger can’t persist long when mindfulness “touches” it. Mindfulness practice teaches us that anger does not come from events or people who “push our buttons,” but instead is completely created within (by unmet expectations). Mindfulness teaches us to not give our power away to events and people to cause emotional pain, and to empower ourselves to become emotionally responsible. That’s also called personal power. Your friends and family will love the change in you.
3) Walking - Feel the sensation.
The soles of the feet generate delightful sensations when we walk, sensations which we are usually too distracted to experience. Instead of tuning out with worry, the cell phone or listening to music, try experiencing the sensation of walking, by moment to moment feeling the sensations on the soles of your feet. Hey, give your stressing mind a break.
Our intellects are powerful tools which orient us to the requirements of daily life, but like any good tool, we should be able to put them away when we are done using them. We have built into our brain, certain hardware which is designed to do exactly this (frontal lobes), and which apparently in most people is falling into disuse. It’s like never using some other part of your anatomy, like your arms or legs. We are physically designed to use the mindfulness tool to turn off obsessing, resentments, anxiety, compulsive behaviors and emotional disturbances, and if this part of our brain hardware is not regularly practiced, our thoughts, feelings and dysfunctional behaviors can run away with themselves, which in the extreme is called a mental disorder. If you don’t use it (frontal lobes/mindfulness), you lose it.
Alcohol, tobacco, psych and pain meds, and illicit drugs are used to numb these painful symptoms, when in fact it should be our frontal lobe’s job to handle such angst. Addiction is in essence a denial of one’s potential to live a happier, healthier life. Practice mindfulness and regularly use your full brain’s potential and you can lead a more joyful and productive life.
In every moment of your life, the choice is always yours.
Dr. Gant MD, PhD has practiced mindfulness for 35 years and he incorporates mindfulness based psychotherapies into his integrative and functional medical practice as an essential tool for assisting his patients to lead healthier, happier lives.