by Robert Kenneth Jones
The practice of Mindfulness is moving the nation along a path to gentle revolution.
I recently watched the 2017 documentary ‘Mindfulness Goes Mainstream’ from PBS and learned that the transformative influence of mindfulness along with Centering Prayer, yoga and other disciplined practices is spreading throughout our country. This has been brewing for a long time but is now emerging as a proven way for relieving stress, offering tools for pain management and providing techniques for increasing focus while improving productivity.
Mindfulness has been embraced by America’s biggest corporations, the Armed Services, police departments, and our school systems. Evidence-based studies conclude that it is having a positive effect on personal health. It should be no surprise that these methods once limited to Eastern religions and old hippies are now being embraced by millions of ordinary people who are trying to survive an increasingly complex and hectic world.
So what is mindfulness anyway?
My personal experiences with it have led me to the following explanation; Mindfulness is a psychological state of heightened moment-to-moment awareness through specific practices and disciplines such as meditation and contemplative prayer. It is about achieving a state of mind that is centered in the present and devoid of judgment (the past) and worry (the future).
Most of us begin to feel like we are spending our whole lives trying to get by. This realization seeps into consciousness somewhere around age 40. You start to develop uneasiness about the secret desperation that you have been hiding for so long. The things that were so important yesterday seem shallow and meaningless today. You look fine on the outside but are crumbling on the inside. You just know there has to be a better way to live more fully. This is when turning to mindfulness is so useful. Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace, a digital health platform, describes the transformative power of doing just that by devoting only ten minutes a day simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
Corporations such as General Mills, Aetna, Target and Google are using mindfulness to improve innovative thinking, communication skills and more appropriate reactions to stress. They have built extensive programs to foster mindful practices among employees and have seen benefits and improvements in employee health, productivity and job satisfaction. Leadership courses have been developed which use mindfulness as the touchstone of success.
Mindfulness in the Military
The United States Marines are embracing mindfulness and report remarkable results. Marines who took an eight-week course in the basics of mindfulness recovered from stress faster following an intense training session that replicated battlefield conditions. Four platoons underwent the standard training regimen to prepare for combat. Members of the other four additionally received eight weeks of mindfulness-based mind fitness training. This consisted of 20 hours of classroom time plus homework: Participants were asked to complete “at least 30 minutes of daily mindfulness and self-regulation exercises.”
The Marines were assessed at the beginning and end of the eight-week program, and again a week or so later after they completed a highly stressful, day-long training exercise at a special facility designed to replicate combat conditions. This training required them to respond to an enemy ambush.
Afterward, 54 Marines who had undergone mindfulness training and 53 who did not undergo a series of medical tests. They revealed that the heart and breathing rates of the mindful Marines returned to normal faster than those of the control group members. Brain scans on a subset of 40 Marines also found differences between the two groups. Focusing on several parts of the brain implicated in cognitive control and emotion regulation, the researchers found exposure to emotional faces produced less activation. There is a reason to believe that this method of strengthening mental and emotional resilience will even reduce to incidence of PTSD for veterans.
Mindfulness in the Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers and first responders have been engaging in mindfulness programs and practices for about ten years. In a pilot study conducted by Oregon police officer Richard Goerling and Michael Christopher of Pacific University, officers who learned mindfulness skills reported “significant improvement in self-reported mindfulness, resilience, police and perceived stress, burnout, emotional intelligence, difficulties with emotion regulation, mental health, physical health, anger, fatigue, and sleep disturbance.” This echoes some of the research from an earlier study, which found that police officers who went through mindfulness training experienced less depression in their first year of service. This approach is certainly preparing LEO’s and first responders with better ways to handle their emotional stressors in an era where they face increasing violence every day.
Mindfulness in the Classroom
Our public and private schools are using mindfulness practices to help students deal with stress, the threat of gun violence, bullying, and classroom restlessness. Two different studies were done by Cheryl Desmond, Ph.D., and Laurie Hanich, Ph.D., of middle school children who had taken the “Wellness Works in Schools” mindfulness-based course showed significant gains in self-regulation and executive function.
Discipline problems become teachable moments for kids who have learned how to use mindfulness. Dennie Doran, head of the Upper School at the Nantucket New School and a teacher there has been at the school for nine years. She definitely sees a “before” and “after” effect since they began teaching mindfulness. “We have a common language from the 3-year-olds to the 14-year-olds. ‘Was that a mindful decision?’ ‘Did you think about your choice?’ ‘Stop and take a breath.’ So that by the time the lower school gets to the upper school we’re dealing with teachable moments instead of discipline problems. They’re learning self-awareness and then making choices based on that self-awareness.”
Perhaps we are entering a new age in schools not rooted in hardening or softening them but in helping students and teachers to find deeper and more meaningful connections with self and others.
A few of the many benefits of Mindfulness:
- Provides key elements to dealing with and fighting stress
- Decreased Depressive Symptoms
- Provides a great tool for breaking bad habits
- Helps us build compassion through personal spiritual or religious experiences
- Allows us to be more strategic in terms of our goals
Pope Francis relates to mindfulness and Centering Prayer as “serene attentiveness” which approaches life by being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. He reminds Christians that “Jesus taught this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, he looked at him with love. He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way; he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.”
Mindfulness at Home
I have found that mindfulness enables me to experience every moment. There is an ever-present opportunity to step into a moment and find peace. I have grown in deeper, loving awareness of the wonders of creation and in my connectedness with other people. I don’t live in the past or worry about the future (for the most part…I’m working on it). Gradually, I have come to believe in the truth of The Serenity Prayer and that we are all here, on earth, in the peaceful presence of the Creator. Thanks at least in part to mindfulness. So, get quiet, sit up straight, close your eyes…now take a deep breath in and let it out. There. You are on your way to practicing mindfulness.
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.
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Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast