Why It Doesn't Make Sense Not to Practice Mindfulness
It behooves you to experiment with it, even if you think you're too busy for it.
Posted Apr 12, 2019
Ever feel like your mind isn't working in your favor? Mindfulness can be a powerful antidote.
It is paying attention to your present moment experience, on purpose, non-judgmentally. Aside from being a quintessential tool to witness how the mind routinely and inevitably produces more suffering than necessary, mindfulness training helps us gain control of our attention so we can use it wisely when we need to. It also helps us savor experiences that we often take for granted. In reality, our days are numbered; we just can’t see the clock. Life is too precious not to fully attend to it moment by moment; we can never get our moments back. Happiness is only accessible in the present moment.
Mindfulness can help us learn to to pay attention to things that we wouldn’t otherwise notice; specifically, access to four otherwise implicit processes: emotion regulation, automatic responding, executive control, and self-other responding. This can lead to more effective and skillful responses to people and situations that otherwise would have stressed you out or discouraged. Practicing is not easy, but it is that simple. The more you practice, the more mindfulness, and thus flexibility in responding to the inevitable stressors that arise, you can experience in your everyday life.
The recent mindfulness boom, not only in psychology, psychotherapy, science, education, but also pop culture and tech, has underscored how needlessly unsatisfied, distracted, anxious, depressed, and disgruntled we have become as humans. Many mental health issues can be traced back to regretting the past and dreading the future, when the only actual moment we ever have to feel joy and peace is now. Personally, I noticed that the more I practiced, the more flexibility and choice I had in responding to what used to feel so stressful before, such as being cut off in traffic, or something not going as planned. Taking just 10-20 minutes daily, or even less, 1-5 minutes a few times weekly to practice actually made me feel more productive, attentive, perceptive, centered, and happy in my day. Why am I so optimistic about it?
All of us have every reason to fine-tune our attention, and thus the quality of our minds. Before I began learning mindfulness at Spirit Rock in 2013 with Dr. Jack Kornfield, I believed that time was our most precious resource given that its finite; we only have 24-hours in a day. As my practice deepened, I realized that attention, more than time, because it can be easily squandered or sidetracked (for example, by endless tasks and mobile notifications), is truly our most precious resource. Perhaps systematic attentional training may be a more attractive title than “mindfulness,” given that many associate notions of mindfulness with Buddhist religion that discourage secular individuals from what could be very illuminating for them.
The mind is all we have to experience our world; it is the filter for everything we perceive and do. Its quality ultimately determines that of our lives. Mindfulness meditation, a deliberate form of mental training, enables us to use our attention in ways that enhance our personal and professional relationships. It also fosters flexibility, creativity, and equanimity. It opens doors we would not have detected otherwise. It gives us more direct control over our attention.
A key issue is many health providers still have not realized the immense value of mental training in facilitating our work and professional growth, as well as helping clients. It is more relevant now than ever. Tech behemoths like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are warring for our attention. They seem to be winning. Check their stock prices over the last five years. They appear to be increasingly profiting from capturing and sustaining our attention. We can't stop scrolling and looking at our phones. Mindfulness practice can counter this. As your practice grows, you may see that when you want to watch a movie for two hours, for example, you will not find yourself checking email or social media compulsively every so often like many people have become used to in our increasingly tech-addicted culture. Mindfulness can help us make choices instead of being controlled by automatic habits.
Fortunately, tech has also made mindfulness more accessible. The best meditation app I have come across so far is “Waking Up,” by Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher. In his in-app meditation course, you will find deeply engaging and thought-provoking meditation lessons, as well as 50 guided meditations that progressively build on each other, each roughly lasting 10 minutes.
On a personal note, this quality is essential to my work as a psychotherapist. Every therapist knows that clients keenly and quickly intuit how present therapists are with them in their sessions. Therapists that conduct sessions mindlessly preoccupied are much more likely to lose clients, or worse—fail to help them. A therapist’s distractability also many unintentionally communicate that clients do not deserve therapists’ undivided attention. It’s no surprise that many clients drop-out of therapy merely because they sense their therapists’ attention was elsewhere during session.
As you begin to see the fruits of your practice, you will likely realize that mindfulness, while not a panacea, can become a "superpower." It can give you the freedom to choose how you respond when others around you seem helplessly tugged around by their automatic emotional responses.
Every time you practice, as brief as it may be, the physical structure of your brain changes. Two basic structural changes are building cortical thickness; ageing unfortunately thins our brains overtime, and desensitizing the brain’s fear center, the amygdala, so it is less easily triggered when no real threat is present. This enables you to be alert and calm simultaneously; a rare combination in our culture. It also facilitates more attentional control, instead of automatically reacting and being held captive by wherever the mind is pulled.
An an increasingly mindless, distracted, and agitated world, your mindfulness practice can be one of the most transformative endeavors you can do for our children, colleagues, friends, and the world.
*This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.