I’ve devoted two blog posts to writing about an article entitled, “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” published in the “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” January 23 issue of The Guardian. (In the first post, I described some of the misconceptions in the article about what mindfulness is and how it’s being applied in the UK. In the second, I explained why mindful meditation programs and retreats may not be for everyone.
In this post, I share how everyone can practice mindfulness on a daily basis.
This brings me again to the basic error of the Guardian article, which begins with the title. “Is Mindfulness Making Us Ill?” No. Meditation retreats led by unqualified individuals may activate long-held traumas, especially if sensory deprivation is a feature. Giving someone an app and telling him it will change his life is surely dishonest. Telling someone she has to take a mindfulness course or she’ll lose her job is frankly coercive.
We can, however, practice mindfulness in very simple ways because the basic concept of mindfulness is simple. It means to focus one’s attention on the present moment, a practice that’s essentially healing.
What can make us ill is to focus on the suffering and resentments of the past. We can also become ill from stress and anxiety as we dread the future. Mindfulness provides an antidote to past and future focus.
We can start in little ways, like small steps in exercise. One way would be to choose one activity per day to practice mindfully. It could be washing the dishes; it could be walking to work.
An activity I highly recommend is mindfully petting your cat or dog, who will thank you for this. Think of the many aspects you can focus on: fur texture, purring (cats), deep sighs of contentment (dogs and sometimes cat), how the chin goes up when you scratch it, the way the animal may bury his head in your hand. You can also learn from the animal’s gift of being fully in the present.
You can also practice “on-demand” mindfulness. Say you have a problem (you think) coming up in the future. You think about this problem during the middle of the night, and anxiety erupts.
Ask yourself if you can do one blessed thing about this problem at 2 a.m. Mostly likely, you’ll realize that you can only worry, which you’re already doing. It doesn’t seem to be helping.
Instead, try this relaxation method, which is a very basic and simple mindfulness technique taught by Thich Nhat Hanh. Slowly inhale and exhale, and as you do so, follow your breath.
Say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Or you can simply say, “In, out.” Breathe as slowly and deeply as you can.
When thoughts arise, don’t try to resist them, but don’t focus on them, either. Allow them to be and return your attention to breathing.
This is only a sample of how you can practice mindfulness.
Ask yourself questions. If you’re unhappy, agitated, depressed, or bored, ask what you’re thinking about. Ask where you are: in the past, future, or present? If you’re not in the present, bring yourself there. Do one of the above procedures or an engaging physical activity.
The more you focus on the present, the easier it gets. The easier it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes.