In 2017, heart disease was the leading cause of death killing 647,457 Americans a year, followed closely by cancer which killed 599,108 Americans a year. The previous two articles in this Mindfulness series have proven that mindfulness, applied as a clinical tool and based on peer-reviewed studies, may significantly prevent and help treat these two killers. Now we turn our attention to the number three killer, unintentional accidents, which causes the deaths of 169,936 Americans a year.
How Accidents Can Happen
Think about the accidents you have had, even little ones like cutting your hand while using a knife or tripping. The question is, were you present and attending to the action at hand or daydreaming and thinking about something else? When I think of the accidents I have had, I was most definitely thinking or having emotions about something other than what was happening, and recognizing the mistake, I would chide myself for being asleep, having observed for most of my life that accidents only happen when I am spaced out and somewhere else. As far as stumbling goes, I have found that one of the “techniques” we have worked on in the Mindfulness and Healing Group, Mindfulness on the Soles of the Feet, to be very helpful in preventing serious falls. Mindfulness is once again a form of medical assistance that becomes increasingly necessary in an aging 70 year old like me.
The Power of Being Present
One of the discoveries in mindfulness practice is that we have little control over our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which seem to happen randomly. Through mindfulness practice and an awakening of our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain which is mostly responsible for conferring mindfulness, we are more able to stay more present. In sports, this is referred to as “presence of mind” and it is sometimes obvious in the slow-motion videos. I once saw a slo-mo playback showing Isiah Thomas, a superstar who played for the Pistons, block a shot that was flying out of bounds, jump out of bounds, catch the ball he had blocked, turn and look down court, and throw a perfect pass half the length of the court to a team-member who then made an uncontested layup. Isiah Thomas’ complicated series of actions and the movement of his laser eyes happened in about 2 seconds and it was referred to by the commentator as astonishing presence of mind. As the video was happening, you could see that every other player’s eyes were completely out-to-lunch with the moment, and they were by definition asleep and in la-la land. One of the discoveries in mindfulness practice is that we spend most of our life asleep, even when we are not “sleeping.”
Mindfulness training, of course, has been shown to lower sports injuries. However, you can benefit even if you are not a serious athlete. The discovery that we have little control over random thoughts, that we are mostly not here and now, that feelings and behaviors are uncontrolled and compulsive, that we are asleep in our waking moments, and that we are therefore subject to accidents, might compel us to ask for help by reaching out for assistance to a mindfulness group, practicing mindfulness regularly and seeking mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MDSR).
The great Greek-Armenian philosopher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, and his famous Russian student, Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii, defined this as the Law of Accident.
“If a man is very identified with his personality, through his false personality,….then such a man is under the law of accident. ... His views are stereotyped, his buffers are fixed, his attitudes are acquired---such a man is asleep to himself.”
Mindfulness is not only useful in preventing accidents but also can be very helpful in dealing with the aftermath.
“Mindfulness meditation can help you recover from injury by changing your perception of the circumstance/trauma/event. It enables you to see the truth of a situation rather than letting emotion skew your opinions and reactions. You can look at the reality of how much tissue damage occurred. You can come to know if pain is authentic or based on fear. You can take an honest look at how much you are building up the meaning of an injury and causing yourself more pain. You can direct your mind towards what is important, rather than being distracted by irrational worries and beliefs that are based in fiction or illusion.”
Finally, using mindfulness to lower and disappear somatic pain, often a sequalae of accidents, will be a separate topic discussed later in this series. Mindfulness practice can be helpful in preventing accidents and in dealing with the aftermath.
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Charles Gant MD, PhD, is a physician, author and teacher and has practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He specializes in getting to the root cause of health issues to support healing at the molecular level. Areas of interest include ADHD, chronic diseases, metabolic, hormonal and immune disorders, infectious disease (Lyme and co-infections), genetic testing and more. He is an expert in interpretation of functional medicine testing to diagnose precisely what is deficient in each patient, and then replenish those missing, essential items.
 Gant C (2020) Awaken Your Godly Brain, Liberty Press.
 Ivarsson (2015) It Pays to Pay Attention: A Mindfulness-Based Program for Injury Prevention With Soccer Players
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Volume 27, 2015 - Issue 3