I just returned from a month offering mindfulness programs in Africa through the non-profit, Between Four Eyes. It may well be that in our increasingly hectic, interconnected world, it is becoming more difficult to survive without it. Mindfulness helps us, among other things, to do the following:
1) Be More Attuned and Less Reactive
"When players practice what is known as mindfulness--paying attention to what's actually happening--not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other." -- Phil Jackson, LA Laker coach who is the winningest coach in NBA finals history.
On many days someone will do something that ignites irritation in us; it could be a request by our boss, an action of our child, or an unkind remark by our partner. No matter the details, anger and frustration bubble up. The question, however, is whether we react mindlessly from this frustration (and usually create more difficulty as a result) or if we can be aware of what we are feeling, and relate to the frustration and the situation. Essentially, our level of mindfulness determines whether our emotions control us, usually resulting in statements and actions that we later regret. If we can acknowledge what we are feeling, see the choices available to us, and consciously decide how best to respond in a given situation.
2) Have Greater Focus
"You must be present to win." -- a sign in Las Vegas
Lets face it, multitasking has become something of an epidemic, even as studies increasingly reveal that when doing so we are not only less productive, but we also make more mistakes. The ability to bring our complete focus to whatever we are doing at a given time, be it a conversation with a friend or a project at work, goes a long way in determining the quality of that effort. Ten minutes of focused work, whether it is learning a new software or writing a report, often produces more results than an hour of unfocused, distracted work. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, who has done some of the the most in-depth research on mindfulness and meditation, put it this way, "Attention is the key to learning, and meditation helps you voluntarily regulate it."
3) Use Words More Effectively
"When walking, just walk; when eating, just eat; when talking, just talk." -- Zen saying
The Buddha said, "Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace." Native Americans have the saying, "Do not speak unless you can improve on silence." Words, for most of us, are easy to spill out, but spoken without mindfulness they generally decrease the quality of an interaction. We have all likely been in meetings, for example, when numerous words and ideas filled the room, but they drained rather uplifted those present. As a result, we left the meeting completely worn out. Mindfulness asks us to focus more on the quality rather than the quantity of the words we speak. Our words then have more power, not because we say more of them, but because we speak from need versus habit or uncomfortableness.
4) Listen More Deeply
"The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence." -- Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh
How many conversations have we had, either by phone or in-person, when a person's attention was only partially with us? Even if a person's body was sitting directly across from us, we knew that his or her mind was elsewhere. At such times, words may be shared, ideas discussed, but there is often very little true listening occurring. When we do not listen deeply, we are essentially communicating to another person, "You don't really deserve my full attention." This, sadly, is more common than not today. Mindfulness involves giving someone our full attention, and showing up with our mind as well as our body. As a result, the people we communicate with may not always feel agreed with, but they will likely feel heard.
And All with No Budget...
Living in the present moment has no central headquarters, no marketing budget, no three-year plan and no PR firm to promote it. Yet people are increasingly seeing its benefit. Words to describe it, whether it is called mindfulness or consciousness or something else, never quite do it justice, but we know it when it happens because we feel a greater sense of aliveness. This generally occurs not because anything particularly spectacular is happening around or to us, but arises instead due to the quality of attention that is arising from inside us.
It is likely, then, as most of our lifestyles keep speeding up, interest in living in the present will continue to increase. Though it is not a business with which we can invest, more people are discovering that it is an effort well worth the investment.
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