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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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Read: Could Mindfulness be the secret to human happiness?

I don’t mind admitting that I’m an emotional chap and I often react to things in a visceral way – sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. Over the years, I’ve developed enough patience to not always outwardly react to things, but internally, I can often be a seething mass of emotion and not all of it is pretty or positive. 

Too often I spend a lot of time worrying or obsessing over things that don’t come to pass. I also tend to think of things I’d like to do or things I’d like to own that I assume will make me happier or my life better. Curiously, on the occasions I do obtain those things, I don’t necessarily feel the way I thought I would.

I’m mentioning this because I think most humans have difficulty reconciling the emotional sides of our nature with logical and rational ways of thinking. Too often our feelings get the better of us and the result can lead to conflict. In extreme cases, it leads to violence and war. We also have a tendency to re-live our pasts and project into the future. A lot of this is about trying to distract ourselves from what we are currently experiencing in the ‘now’.

We dream about a better life, a new car, a holiday, all the while ignoring the fact that the only reality we have is the one we are experiencing right this second.

I know I do it. All. The. Time. 

Sages, philosophers, and deep thinkers have for millennia talked about the idea of ‘mindfulness’, a concept where we live fully in the now and be truly mindful of what is going on around us all the time. It means really engaging with the sights and sounds and experiences at every moment. An important part of it also concerns observing our own thoughts and feelings as they appear in our heads and choosing not to engage with them. It is also about not being overly reactive to things or being overwhelmed by what is going on around us. 

Don’t we all need a bit of that?

Recently I re-read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now, and it reminded me what a profound and powerful thing mindfulness can be. This year, I’ve tried (with varying levels of success) to practice it as much as I can.

What is surprising, is when I actually do just observe my emotions and thoughts and not engage with them, the thoughts just vanish and I feel an incredible calmness. Interestingly, as I started writing this piece I was feeling a little edgy and anxious. Right now, I’m feeling serene. For me it seems, just writing about mindfulness changes my mood for the better! 

It isn’t always easy to just observe and not react, especially if I’m feeling very strong emotions such as anger or fear. It can take a lot of effort not to engage in obsessive thoughts during moments of intense stress, but with practice it can be done. 

Of course, there are times when reacting is necessary such if one’s life is in danger, or because we make a ‘mindful’ decision to do so because it is the right thing to do. In other words, it’s not about just being passive and letting events and incidents wash over us, but is about making a conscious choice at the moment.

What I am describing here is just a very superficial explanation of mindfulness. There are many writers and thinkers who can articulate it much better than I, but I wanted to share my experience of it because it has made a difference for me in what has been a very trying year. 

The challenge is to keep it up. Distractions come up constantly and just reading the news each day is enough to bring up negative thoughts. But remembering that I have the power within me to disconnect from that negativity is a profound thing. 

Research into mindfulness is still on-going and the concept is by no means fully accepted by the scientific community. However, there is a growing recognition that mindfulness can have positive effects on human beings and their relationships. 

There are many ways of practicing mindfulness, it is not necessarily about prayer or what we might consider meditation, though those things may work for some. It is about finding what is right for each individual.  

Having experienced some quite profound moments of peace and gained a great deal of insight into myself by practicing mindfulness, I think it is something most of us could find advantageous. I find when I do practice it regularly I feel better, I worry less, and more importantly, other people don’t irritate me as much as they usually do!

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