One of the key tenants of the Slow Philosophy and one of the most important abilities to cultivate is mindfulness.
Mindfulness comes from Buddhist philosophy but has been picked up in the last few years by modern western psychology, mainly by someone called Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is attracting increasing interest among western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists as a means of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states.
But it is not limited to only helping in those conditions, by becoming mindful you will find you will have more energy, concentration, less worries and concerns (therefore more relaxed) and appear to be able to act more spontaneously and relevantly in a given situation (hence increasing your confidence).
So, what is mindfulness?! It is simply paying attention to what we are doing NOW. Very few of us actually pay conscious attention to what we doing.
Our brains are designed to ‘habituate” repeated experience. What this means is when we do something over and over again, we stop paying conscious attention to it and it becomes an automatic unconscious habit.
It is thought that we do this for survival purposes, our conscious minds have limited attention, so our habituation means we stop paying attention to what doesn’t change (we don’t need to) and only pay attention to something that changes (which can mean danger).
But where it works against us is that much our day is spent doing the same things and having the same stimuli. We stop paying attention and start sleepwalking through life. Our lives begin to appear mundane and we yearn for something new to stimulate us.
If we saw a sunrise once in our lifetime we would consider it one of the most beautiful sights we have ever seen, because we see it almost daily, we stop paying attention, we miss the beautiful richness of “every day” life.
Slowing down is about paying attention to that daily richness, to appreciate the beauty that is all around us.
Luckily we are not stuck with the results of our habituation and can reset the process so that we can live richer and fuller lives a process of ‘mindfulness’, or deliberately paying attention to every day habits.
A lot of mindfulness exercises are in the forms of meditation, where we sit and focus on something (often our breathing) for long periods of time. Although this is very, very powerful it can be quite overwhelming for a beginner and the power of mindfulness is to use it every day life, not to be able to sit for hours on end.
So I have developed a series exercises, experiments and activities to help you bring mindfulness into your every day life and start to build towards a meditative practice.
I will begin those exercises tomorrow and run a short series of them for the next few posts.