May 10, 2014

Cultivating Mindfulness in an Age of Distraction.

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Mindfulness, the latest buzzword, recently has hit Time magazine.

The word is everywhere; you can’t get away from it. It’s used as an adverb (mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful working, mindful parenting), a clothing line, a magazine and even a tea brand.

More and more people are gravitating toward the pull of this ancient wisdom of mindfulness not because it’s the latest fad, but because it’s a means of coping in an overly stimulating, competitive and demanding society.

We are living in an age of distraction. And as the Time article states, “there are no signs of things slowing down; to the contrary, they’re getting stronger.”

Many of us are running on fumes, desperately searching for ways to manage the daily onslaught. We’ve reached a state of urgency, recognizing that slowing down is not only necessary to thrive but to survive. Stress is one of the leading risk factors for most degenerative diseases. Fortunately, practicing mindfulness can help. It is a practical, indispensable tool to reclaiming our inner peace and learning how to de-stress.

Most importantly it’s available to everyone.

Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the simple act of bringing awareness to what is happening in the moment and giving one’s full attention to it—without judgment. It’s so simple, yet so profound—life-changing profound. One can work mindfully, parent mindfully and learn mindfully. One can exercise, eat, think and live mindfully. It’s transforming.

When we bring our attention to our inner selves, including our mind, body, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, we become our own witness.

Watching without judgement or expectations is the key to mindful awareness. The minute we judge a thought, we become involved in it. We become part of the story and can no longer be the objective observer.

Witnessing our thoughts objectively however, creates an opportunity for change. We cannot change a thought if we’re unaware of the thought. Likewise, we cannot change a thought if we identify with it. For example, ‘I am sad’ is different from ‘I feel sad’. The former creates an identity around sadness.

While a feeling can be fleeting, an identity tends to be more permanent. Paying attention to our inner dialogue is the first, critical step in a mindfulness practice. The next step is doing something with it.

Strengthening the Positive

Our brain is three to five times more sensitive to negative information than positive. This was helpful long ago but today we don’t have as many everyday physical threats yet our brains are still wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. When we intentionally pay attention to the positive, the neural pathways associated with positive memories are strengthened. The more frequently we access those pathways the more we’ll use them, lessening our focus on the negative. Bringing mindful awareness to our negative thought patterns allows us to change and redirect our thinking.

Attention is like a muscle. As with any muscle, it is strengthened with exercise. Our brains have the ability to adapt and rewire—this neuroplasticity gives evidence to the science behind mindfulness practices.

Cultivating Mindfulness in Youngsters

Today, more than ever, our kids are in dire need of slowing down.  They were born in the height of distraction, not knowing a time when we couldn’t access information instantaneously or when phones weren’t an extension of our extremities.

Imagine if we cultivate mindfulness in children as their brains are still developing. Offering children easy age-appropriate mindfulness practices can equip our next generation with self-regulating and empowering tools that last a lifetime.  Kids love learning about their minds and bodies and finding their inner space. And counter to what some believe, they actually enjoy quiet time.

Let’s give our kids the opportunity to rediscover stillness and silence with the same sense of comfort as coming home.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

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