These days whenever I can I actively practice mindfulness, the quality or state of being conscious or of being aware, a process that has certainly been around for centuries, It’s like enjoying a cerebral celebration and should be integral to 21st century enlightenment.
In this crazily busy world pausing and taking moments to reflect or to allow your mind to rest so that it can be inspired by exposure to all new experiences is important. It is up to each and every one of us to shape our lives through choice.
We can create a healthier and happier environment around us by developing our own Smiling Mind. “It’s time to check in with yourself” across Australia and across the World.
With a rising interest in Neuroscience, we have an opportunity, which we must not squander, to sophisticate our understanding of ourselves. — Iain McGilchrist*
Smiling Mind, an analogy I love, is an Australian not for profit organisation developed by psychologists based on mindfulness meditation techniques. It is delivering a substantial social profit by making its resources accessible to everyone, irrespective of geographic location, socio-economic status or age.
Encouraging our children throughout their formative years to have a quiet time each day is very beneficial to their wellbeing. It will start the practice and form a habit that will take them happily into adulthood. How else can they learn to formulate their wishes and dreams and stimulate their imagination.
The ancient dichotomy between what we know and what we dream, intuit or sense by instinct is found, in some form, in every field of human intellectual endeavour. **
Addie Wootten CEO of the not for profit organisation Smiling Mind notes that, ‘… its ambassadors, professionals and educators are all championing modern meditation through using an app based program, designed to ‘help bring balance to people’s lives’. It’s also hoping to improve social academic skills with their focus on schools.
To date the Smiling Mind App has reached more than 1.5 million people worldwide and more than 18,000 educators use their programs in schools
In the words of artist and author Elizabeth Murray of California, whose book Living Life in Full Bloom has been a huge success, we need to “define the purpose of our busy life, to figure out who we really are, and to unearth our passions and gifts,”
It is all about helping yourself and others in your circle to foster self-awareness and kick start behaviour change. Humans do have the capacity to shape the conditions, both social and ideological that support and strengthen our actions.
Since discovering the benefits of staying still and quietly meditating during my teenage years at Yoga classes in Sydney’s downtown Leichhardt, I have practiced being still and giving my mind time to rest for most of my adult life. Even if for a few minutes, being mindful of being still can be a life long transforming process, especially when your brain is telling you it’s time to stop, reflect, refresh, replenish and rejuvenate.
These days after many hours at the computer screen my meditative moments mostly take place on my walk along the river and through the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne, where in the quiet contemplative space of the Fern Gully gardens or by the lake, I can chill out in the shade and give my mind time to be still.
This is very beneficial for me because it gives me the time to contemplate direction by solidifying my memories. It’s also very important for my stress levels, aiding my medication for diabetes perhaps the scourge of our century.
Following WWII a student of Buddhism in America Jon Kabat-Zinn created a Stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and kick started the awareness of meditation and its benefits for the modern age.
Integral to behavioural science there is a hope among many, that Mindfulness will become a feature of the philosophies attached to bringing about 21st Century Enlightenment. It is all about transforming your behaviour.
Rational individuals who make decisions consciously, consistently and independently are only part of who we are. For those who have practiced Yoga and other meditative techniques for decades, it is not surprising that pausing within each day to give our minds time to think will in the long term give back tenfold in terms of mental health and mental well being.
Our habits, our attention and our decisions are all deeply influenced by our thinking and so giving the brain some time should be a major priority for everyone from childhood to adulthood, and you are never too young or to old to start.
‘The chains of habit… are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken…’ said England’s man of letters Dr. Samuel Johnson, a quote pointing out to us all that it is up to each and every one of us as an individual to recognise the flaws in our habits and to change them. Embracing change is a challenge for all adults.
Habits are important, they help define who we are, but if they are ineffective they can be changed. Everything we do can be traced to our attitudes, including transforming behaviour change, especially if we are to give children today opportunities to achieve and shine in the world of the future,
“It helps me to not say mean things to my friends”, says one small inspirational school child in a meaningful video of interviews about the effects of Mindfulness on those already practicing the art of meditation in Australian schools.
This is not an esoteric issue for the private realm but vital to increasing mental well being in public health (physical and mental) promoting the acquisition of skills to enable us all to be present, aware and attentive to what is going on within us, around us and between us.
Here, according to the Harvard Business Review are five easily implemented tips to help you become more mindful:
• Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness training each day. Most people find mornings the best time to practice mindfulness, but you can do it any time of day.
• Avoid reading email first thing in the morning. Our minds are generally most focused, creative, and expansive in the morning. This is the time to do focused, strategic work and have important conversations.
If you read your email as you get up, your mind will get side-tracked and you’ll begin the slide toward reactive leadership.
Making email your first task of the day wastes the opportunity to use your mind at its highest potential.
Try waiting at least 30 minutes, or even an hour, after you get to work before checking your inbox.
• Turn off all notifications. The notification alarms on your phone, tablet, and laptop are significant contributors to reactive leadership. They keep you mentally busy and put you under pressure, thereby triggering reactionary responses. They cause damage far more than they add value.
• Try this: For one week turn off all email notifications on all devices. Only check your email once every hour (or as often as responsibly needed for your job), but don’t compulsively check messages as they roll into your inbox.
• Stop multitasking. It keeps your mind full, busy, and under pressure. It makes you reactive.
Try to maintain focus on a single task, and then notice when you find your mind drifting off to another task — a sign that your brain wishes to multitask.
When this happens, mentally shut down all the superfluous tasks entering your thoughts while maintaining focus on the task at hand.
• Put it on your calendar.
Schedule a check-in with yourself every two weeks to assess how well you’re doing with the previous four tips, or as a reminder to revisit this article to refresh your memory.
Consider engaging one of your peers to do the same thing.
This gives you a chance to assess each other, which can be both helpful and motivating.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
*McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven: Yale University Press.
** Essay Kathleen Taylor research scientist in the department of physiology at Oxford University, which won the THES /Palgrave Humanities and Social Sciences Writing Prize.