When I was just a kid, going to the barbershop was always exciting for me as not only is that a place for me to have a haircut, but it also acts as a free-reading zone for me of various comic books and magazines. Sitting on the barber chair, I immersed myself in the fictional world of ‘Doraemon’. What I like the most about Doraemon is the element of time-travelling. I always dreamed about the possibilities there will be if time-travelling is real, how I can travel to any point in my life or of our history.
Most of all, whenever I made mistakes that I deemed to be unforgivable (i.e. my past accidents), I would think that if I could just rewind the time a little bit so that I can avoid all unfortunate incidents, then my life would be free from regrets. If I know which part of the exams I got wrong, I could just go back in time and correct them! Similarly, if I found myself anxious and nervous for an upcoming event, I could just fast forward in time to skip ahead of that event. With that, I will be free of regrets and anxiety!
While growing up, I realized that I could ACTUALLY time-travel in real life. And we all have that ability! It just didn’t work the way it did in the comics I so loved. I found that whenever I had a moment to rest myself, my mind behaved like a monkey, wandering all over the place, and bringing up tonnes of information and images. Even when I am physically engaged in a conversation with others, my mind could just wander away from the present moment and engage in worrying about some embarrassing moment that happened that morning (past), or the deadlines of my works (future). Triggered by certain words said by others, my mind would broadcast me various regretful past events, leaving me in a sea of self-blame.
In short, OUR MINDS ARE TIME MACHINES.
Being much too occupied with my own thoughts in my mind, I have made silly mistakes such as walking out from the wrong railway station, making wrong turns while driving home, not paying attention to what I had for my meal etc (you name it!). If you find yourself, like me, not being mindful in the present moment, or being stuck in the past or future, there is actually a name for it: Mindlessness.
Hence, in this article, I would like to invite you to know more about Mindfulness (the opposite of Mindlessness), a way of engaging more with the present moment.
1. What is Mindfulness?
As Jon Kabat-Zin said, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Basically, Mindfulness is about a gentle attention being engaged in the present without judgment.
2. What is the origin of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has existed for thousands of years. In general, Mindfulness practice was popularized in Eastern spiritual and religious practices, especially in Buddhism and Hinduism (but not only limited to Buddhism and Hinduism). Traces of its roots can also be found in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism (Trousselard et al., 2014).
When we think about the word “Mindfulness”, we always imagine an old man meditating in a forest or a cave for a very long time. While mindfulness practice was initially more concentrated in Eastern contexts, it was Jon Kabat-Zin who bridged the gap between East and West by founding the Mindfulness Center at the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School. Establishing the popular eight-week Mindfulness Stress-Based Reduction program, Jon Kabat-Zin introduced mindfulness practice to the general public, with the aims of reducing stress levels among patients with pains or somatic complaints.
3. What is so good about Mindfulness Practice?
a. Reduces Regrets about the Past and Worries about Future
Our mind is a double-edged sword. While we are physically present at some place, our mind can act like a time machine. It will bring us travelling to the past or the future, while at the same time throwing us into hidden pools of regrets and worries. By practicing mindfulness, it allows us to engage with the present moment more often.
b. Reduces Multitasking & Careless Mistakes
We often want to multitask to achieve a few outcomes in a short period of time. But this often results in a wasting of more time, energy while making more careless mistakes due to the fact that we are not focused. Studies have shown that we can only switch our attention to multiple tasks that require significant amounts of attention rather than having equal attention to juggle a few tasks at the same time. Hence, be mindful and focus on one task at a time.
c. Activates the ‘Relaxation Response’ of Parasympathetic Nervous System
When we are stressed, our body will activate the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight-or-flight) to help us cope with the events at hand. However, we often feel stressed not because of the real event itself but due to imagined threats in our minds (eg: bosses will punish us if we cannot finish our work on time, etc). Hence, practicing mindfulness allows us to feel more grounded and relaxed by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
d. Promotes Loving-Kindness and Self-Compassion
When others did something wrong, we might forgive them and let go of the grudges we had. But when we make mistakes ourselves, we might overly blame ourselves, to the extent of ruminating on what has happened and flooding ourselves with punishing thoughts such as, “I should have done this!” Practicing mindfulness allows us to pay kind attention to the present moment and learn to acknowledge whatever thoughts / feelings (be it positive or negative) that arise from time to time. We embrace our experiences and make peace with whatever that is out of our control.
4. How to Practice Mindfulness?
Well, I am not going to teach you how to formally practice mindfulness here in this short article, as that requires a much more in-depth look into the subject matter. However, here are some tips on mindfulness that you can practice in your daily life:
- Do one task at a time.
- Pick a morning routine activity (such as when you are brushing your teeth). Just pay attention to your body sensations, focus on the taste, smell, touch of the brush against your teeth, the toothpaste foam in your mouth etc. Just pay attention to what you are doing. If you notice that your mind wanders, it is okay (we all have such moments) and gently acknowledge whatever thought or feeling that has popped up, and slowly invite yourself back to the present activity.
You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.”
Combined with my personal experience, this article summarizes some of the key points delivered by Dr Phang Cheng Kar on ‘Mindfulness For Stress Reduction’ at Malaysia Association for Mindfulness Practice & Research’s (MMPR) Watering The Seed Of Mindfulness event with the hope of giving you a glimpse on the concepts of mindfulness and some simple tips.
View Dr Phang’s presentation slides here: http://bit.ly/drphangslides
Know more about Malaysia Association for Mindfulness Practice & Research here
Cover photo credit: vignette.wikia.nocookie.net
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