Mindfulness: more than just meditation

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“Mindfulness,” he said slowly leaning back from his desk, “is that sort of like meditation?”

I’d been asked the question countless times, and this time, like the rest, it was brought with a sense of honest curiosity.

The man asking inquiring was Stuart Zukerman, head of an extremely successful Surrey law firm. We had business, and I resolved to clarify his question in greater detail when we were done.

We concluded our work in a couple of weeks, then I answered his question in full. Over the half hour, I had his rapt attention.

When he had the full picture, Zukerman Law Group became a valued client of Still Here Mindfulness, training all lawyers and support staff over an eight-week period.

I’ve thought about his question a lot over the last year, and have come to an analogy (I nearly always do).

Mindfulness is like meditation in the same respect that airplane travel is sort of like taxiing an aircraft down the runway.

The latter is a crucial element of groundwork for the former, no question.

But mindfulness, like commercial flight, really becomes valuable when it gets “wheels up,” when we fold it into our lives.

It’s great to get that feeling of ease and peace on a meditation chair, but life doesn’t happen on a chair. Transporting the practice into our day-to-day life is a must if we are to fully see the benefits in our lives as we live them.

This is the true value of mindfulness.

So, how do we go about doing that?

There are a huge number of techniques available to us, and it’s just a matter of putting them into practice.

The first step is to invite ourselves to stop living on autopilot. Studies show we are mentally drifting for 47 per cent of our waking lives. In all activities but one, we were absent 30 per cent of the time. The one where we were more focused was during physical intimacy, where we were daydreaming 10 per cent of the time (Killingsworth, et. al. 2010). Further, Killingsworth drew a direct connection between happiness and presence. It didn’t matter what we were thinking about, pleasant or unpleasant daydreaming was making us miserable, he found.

So how do we go about increasing our level of presence, and by extension, happiness?

• First we establish some level of formal meditation. This could be all of five minutes a day (about half a per cent of our waking day). The trick is to develop a practice of stillness, just as you would for physical fitness. Most practitioners find they perform more efficiently as a result.

• Then take time during the day, even once, to set your full attention on the sensation of the three breaths. This has the effect of ending the cycle of mental drifting, and resetting our minds. We experience ease and increased focus as a result.

• We can also set our attention on the sensations of the body, whether that is an itch, and ache, a feeling of warmth or coolness. Simply watch without judgment, or adding a story to it.

• Take meals and coffee breaks just a tiny bit slower, while giving full attention to the sensory aspects, such as taste, smell, feel, etc. We will enjoy what we are consuming to a greater degree and bring ourselves back to presence.

• Watch thoughts and emotions come and go. This can be difficult at first, but extremely beneficial when we get a hang of it. Neither thoughts or emotions stay too long when we don’t  cast judgment or identify with them.

• Approach the next conversation you have with presence, interest and an attitude that you have something to learn. This completely changes how a conversation unfolds, and enriches it for all parties involved.

These are just a few of the techniques used in building mindfulness into our day.

So, is mindfulness a kind of meditation. Well, yes, but it’s so much more.

Kevin Diakiw