After the technological enthusiasm of my last two blogs, I was reminded of the value of mindfulness in everyday life whilst wandering past magnolias in flower. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but has been embraced by the Western world as a form of stress management for maintaining wellbeing. Mindfulness is essentially about attention; being fully aware and present, focused on the task or person at hand. Mindfulness is related to many other Buddhist practices, but a full engagement with Buddhism is not necessary for its use. There is emerging interest and research involving mindfulness in education, psychology and other social sciences, with many books, online resources and courses available.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has had a significant impact on the use of mindfulness meditation in health, integrating Buddhist teachings with western medicine in developing an approach to deal with stress, depression, pain and illness. His books, CDs and talks are available to buy online. My favourite one is Coming to Our Senses, where he describes mindfulness as ‘openhearted, moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness’. In Asian languages, where the meaning of heart and mind are more closely linked, mindfulness can be translated as finding a home in our hearts for peace in the present moment. Kabat-Zinn describes it as developing the feeling of being at home and at peace – right here, right now.
I have intermittently practiced meditation and yoga since my teens, with varying degrees of interest and comitment. In mindfulness, I have found a way of incorporating the calmness and clarity of meditation into everyday life – at home and at work. It’s not that I’m always calm – far from it, as my family and friends will attest. I have found that taking even ten minutes each day to ‘come home’ to my breathing and an awareness of my body and surroundings, anchors me to an inner place of stillness. I am reminded that – just for a few moments at least – I can let go of my myriad daily concerns and responsibilities, knowing they will still be there on my return; when I am hopefully slightly calmer and more focused.
Kabat-Zinn acknowledges his debt to the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, who is often considered to be a key person in the introduction of Buddhist ideas to the west. At 84 years old, he is still actively teaching and writing as the spiritual leader of the Buddhist community and education centre, Plum Village, that he founded in France in 1969, where ‘The Art of Mindful Living’ is taught. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasises that mindfulness, wellbeing and responsibility are interrelated, so that caring for ourselves enhances our capacity to work and to care for others. In the last few years of my working life I have been trying, with a group of colleagues, to embody these ideas as a way of dealing with a hectic workplace. There is even an organisation supporting such attempts at developing mindfulness at work http://www.mindfulnessatwork.org/.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the miracles that can be found all around us in the present moment when we develop the eyes to see. Such was my experience as I walked past my magnolias. To others they may just be a beautiful flower. To a person with brown thumbs, like myself, the fact that a plant that requires the care and attention of a magnolia has survived in my garden is miraculous. The pleasure of picking one and savouring its size and smell evokes a feeling of wonder in me, that such beauty can develop from a small sapling I planted last year.