There is no question anymore about the benefits of mindfulness and its impact on stress and contentment. Researchers in neuroscience and psychology are now proving the beneficial effects of regular mindfulness practice on attention, learning, stress and emotional well-being. It is increasingly being prescribed as a remedy to achieve greater wellness and contentment in our increasingly distracted and disconnected lives.
The rate at which our lives are becoming more hectic is being felt by all of us. The relentless demands of being connected 24/7 in an incredibly fast changing world means that our attention is being drawn many different directions at once. As a result we can easily feel tired, worn out, harried or even thin, as if our awareness and attention is being spread over too many things.
Recently the Australia Psychological Society published its national survey of the psychological state of Australians and found that we are more stressed than we have even been. It is now being called a stress epidemic.
It appears to me to be a different form of ADD, this struggling to pay attention to too many things and as a result we experience high levels of Anxiety, Distraction and Disconnection.
No wonder we yearn for simple moments and pleasures. To sit quietly under a tree listening to the chirping of birds. To rest peacefully on a sun lounge, dozing and dreaming. Or even gazing out across a mist covered mountain range, contemplative and at peace. These are the images that appeal to us because they promise simplicity. To be able to sit quietly with something that is beautiful and just be in the moment.
I suspect though that most of us would have trouble sitting quietly with ourselves even if we could find that perfect shade tree, sun kissed beach, or mountain top.
You see, through most of your normal daily routine your brain is being trained to get even better at what it is designed to - to scan for threats. It's what it was evolved to do. It's like a radar at a defence facility, relentlessly rotating and scanning for signals from the environment. It's constantly on, and in the modern busy world, it will keep you at a heightened state of alert - Defcon 3 or 4 maybe. No wonder we are part of a stress epidemic and feel less happy than we should given our affluent lifestyles.
Fortunately you can move towards that peace and simplicity in your every day life. A counter to your inattention and agitation. To sit quietly with yourself and notice yourself being in the world, anchoring yourself in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or cogitating on the past. All it takes is a few minutes each day of mindfulness meditation practice. A way of training yourself to cultivate simplicity and presence.
It's important though to dispel a commonly held myth about mindfulness meditation. Most people who have had little experience with it will assume that the benefit of the meditation is in the moment itself. That it will bring a calm zen-like peace and serenity. Whilst this may be true for some people, for many the benefit is felt between meditations. You see, when meditating we are training the mind to stay in the present, where the real action is. We are therefore training ourselves to recognise when we start straying into thoughts of the past or future, where we have no control or ability to influence outcomes - a place where anxiety, distraction and disconnection manifest most strongly. So a helpful way of thinking about mindfulness meditation is that we are training ourselves to be more aware and able to stay in the present when we are not meditating.
So go on, take the first step to improve your well-being and quality of life. Not in some far off place but right here, right now.