Vail Daily column: Becoming ‘aware’ is not easy
There are many trends that have come and gone addressing mental peace and concentration exercises for the mind. Yes, there is an app for this. Perhaps you may have heard or seen ads for Lumosity, Clockwork Brain and Elevate. All are “based on extensive scientific research” and promise to improve one’s ability to improve their cognitive skills and awareness. In time, when new apps, books and corporate speakers have come and gone, mindfulness may still be around as it has for thousands of years.
One of the latest mind awareness training concepts is called mindfulness. Mindfulness is a meditative practice with roots in Buddhism. The concept is taken from the first of Buddha’s teachings, the Four Noble Truths.
Why the popularity?
As Western culture has become so enveloped in 24/7 news, smart phones and an insatiable hunger for “more,” our lives have become hysterically busy. Many people often feel as if they are passive spectators to life and are left with feelings of inadequacy in a consumption-based society with growing inequality. As our morality of higher purpose and ability to live a fulfilling life become challenged, many people are searching for greater meaning and the ability to make sense of it all.
Mindfulness is receiving much creditable praise with the assistance of articles being written in Time magazine, the Huffington Post, the Oxford University Press and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness has also received a great amount of attention from cognitive behavioral therapists and research institutions validating that there is scientific evidence that meditation has genuine health benefits.
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Mindfulness has modernized meditation. The stereotype of a monk in the lotus position, clad in robes and leading a group of followers through a process of attaining higher spiritual levels is giving way to mainstream acceptance.
What is it?
The fundamentals behind mindfulness include: quieting the mind’s constant and aimless noise, finding focus and clarity of thought, reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem and managing pain levels. Like Buddhism, mindfulness focuses attention on the flow of the breath and uses breath as an object of concentration. By focusing on your breath you become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, defined mindfulness as “a means of paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
In general, our minds crave information and freedom. Thus training our mind to be still and disciplined is not easy. Mastering our mind and its incessant wandering has benefits beyond that of calming and clarity. Research is providing vast amounts of data about the benefits it has on memory, abstract thinking, creativity and even social interactions.
Mindfulness skills have proven to provide people in the early stages of dementia with tools which assist in managing feelings, reducing anxiety and improving their quality of life. By focusing on the here and now, these learned skills can assist in staying away from dark and negative thoughts.
How to learn more
Ironically, in effort to learn more about mindfulness you can go online. There are also some great books and courses that are offered. Here is a listing of books in addition to courses offered in Colorado:
• “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
• “Heal Thy Self,” Saki Santorelli.
• “Mindful Work,” David Gelles.
• “Mindsight,” Daniel J. Siegel.
Mindfulness training classes:
• YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, May 15-18, 303-885-3091.
• Kadampa Meditation Center Colorado, Modern Mindfulness Meditation Workshop, May 2, 303-813-9551.
• Denver Botanic Gardens, Morrison Center Building, Tuesday evenings, now through June 2, 303-415-2766.
• Kaiser Permanente MBSR classes taught throughout Denver, 303-764-8500 and 303-239-7224.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.