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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has its origins in a number of religions, but most notably Buddhism.  It is a state of being where we are literally living in the moment.  The reason we should be living in the moment is that the root cause of much sadness and depression is ruminating about the past or the future.  When we take a step back we understand that the past is done and cannot be changed, and that the future is unknowable, so why destroy our immediate experience worrying about it?

Of course, it is easy to say Live in the Moment, but our whole lives are shaped by a mentality of setting goals, working towards them and measuring ourselves by the gap between the goal and our actual position at various points in time.  This is fine when you are navigating to an address or completing a work task, but it turns out that when it comes to being happy, it is the worst possible behaviour.  The harder we strive to close the gap the worse we can feel, and when we lose control of the process we fall into depression, one of the curses of modern life.  A number of academic studies in both the USA and the UK have found that breaking the cycle of rumination is crucial to avoiding relapses of clinical depression and that the practice of Mindfulness can improve happiness and well-being for all.

Mindfulness encourages us to treat ourselves and those around us with compassion, and to accept the present moment as it is, without judging and without striving to be somewhere else.  This does not require any religious belief, nor the adoption of specific rituals, apart from the act of meditation in a chair, on a stool or on the floor.  It involves nothing more than pausing and noting what you can sense right here, right now.   When we fill our attention with what is actually going on, the breath, sounds, smells and sensations, the clamouring of the doing mind is quietened, and we can achieve a moment of peace.  With practice that moment becomes many moments, and we find ourselves able to maintain serenity even when things are not as we want them to be, which is probably most of the time in many people's lives.

Through the sustained practise of mindful meditation, sometimes in combination with professional therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) everyone can slowly but surely change their world view to one that does not fill the mornings with dread,  where the simple joy of being alive is recognised and where we are fully engaged with the moment we are in. 

Sustained practise is the key, and you will only be able to advance on the journey if you are willing to keep walking, no matter how small the steps.  Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues have formulated an 8 week programme of Mindfulness that takes its participants through various exercises until they are able to develop their practise themselves.  Like passing a driving test, the courses simply get you to the point where you can learn by yourself, rather than making you a master of the art.  When you have some practise established, come to visit us at Le Riboudin to deepen your practise in the verdant calm of the Normandy Coast.

Mindfulness cannot substitute for your psychiatrist or therapist's treatment plan if you are presently suffering from clinical depression, but it can be used when you are well to help you develop the tools to avoid a relapse.   Research suggests that it achieves this by gently modifying our response to the events that can trigger a depressive cycle of rumination.  As we become aware of our thoughts as external to our mind, transient things that come and go, so we are less likely to take these thoughts as being the truth, thus robbing them of the power to pull down our moods.

It is easy to be mindful in a retreat or inside a temple, but most of us have to live in the heat of the modern world, with its constant demands and incessant communication.  The practise of Mindfulness enables us to embrace the everyday world as it is, not as we may want it to be, and so we find ourselves better able to function within it.  It is actually a myth that the most successful people are the hard-driving, marathon-running super-heros.  More often, they are the ones who are able to calmly survey the situation, detach themselves from it and thus make better decisions.  Mindfulness does not mean getting off the ride, it means appreciating every part of the ride, neither wishing to go back nor wishing for it to end.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says that this could be the hardest work you ever do, changing from the doing to the being mode of thought, but it is also the most important work, because it is through this change that we can avoid depression, burn-out and dissatisfaction, which has to be worth the effort. 




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