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THE OPEN MIND INSTITUTE © 2019 

ABN 30 504 693 782 

How Mindfulness = Empowerment

October 18, 2018

 

Why do people keep going on about this buzzword ‘Mindfulness’? What’s the big deal anyway and what’s this business about it equating to empowerment? These are all really great questions that I’m going to answer for you. Let’s start with the ‘Why’:

 

WHY MINDFULNESS

 

If we look at the world today, there is arguably a massive divide between ‘well being’ and ‘being well off’. Never before have we been bombarded by so many messages (now targeted in accordance with our on-line movements) telling us what we need to eat, wear, buy and think in order to be ‘happy’.

 

Never before have we had this amount of technology at our disposal whereby we can connect with strangers on the other side of the planet, yet have severed connection with our loved ones laying in the very same room. This ‘divide’ and ‘disconnect’ is leading many of us to feel inadequate, unhappy and is contributing to the adverse mental health epidemic.[1]

 

A recent Harvard research paper[2] found that people spend 47% of their waking lives thinking about something other than what they’re doing in the present moment. That is nearly half our waking lives are spent thinking about things that have either happened in the past or are about to occur in the future (matters we have little to no control over!). The paper further suggests that it is this “mind wandering” that is the root cause of unhappiness.

 

There’s a Hermetic phrase I frequently refer to that says: As above, so below, as within, so without.[3] This implies that our inner world is a decisive factor in shaping our ‘reality’. So if this world, with all its division and disconnect, is a representation of our inner world, then our thoughts seriously need to be analysed! This brings us to the subject of Mindfulness:

 

Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s complete and undivided attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment and sustaining that attention control for as long as possible.

 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS

 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness are vast and plentiful. From a mental health perspective, it is a natural and non-prescriptive measure to reduce, even eradicate, depression, anxiety and stress. It can also help with combating chronic pain and addictions.

 

By way of example, TOMI’s[4] one-one-one coaching was recently provided to a lady (let’s call her Megan) who was seeking assistance to deal with her addiction to junk food. Mindfulness is one of the key measures introduced into our one-on-one sessions as it grants insight as to why we act in certain ways and provides a platform from which to make lasting changes.

 

At night when Megan would come home from work, she would consume a litre of diet Coke and a bag of potato chips. After she began to implement mindfulness, she found that she was either subconsciously thinking about events that happened at work that day or what tasks she had to complete the following day. It was during this ‘mind wondering’ that Megan was subconsciously feeding herself the junk food that was doing her body damage.

 

Megan advised that she also found her awareness and senses became heightened during the mindfulness practice, explaining that she was more conscious of being in the present moment and consuming the junk food. Practising mindfulness assisted Megan with eradicating her addiction to junk food and today she is addicted to going to the gym.

 

WHERE'S THE EVIDENCE

 

In light of recent scientific evidence, mindfulness is no longer a mere ‘buzzword’.[5] As a result of functional magnetic resonance imaging, practicing mindfulness has now been proven to work.

 

By detecting changes associated with blood flow in the brain, it indicates time and time again, that when practicing mindfulness, the amygdala (part of the brain associated with ‘fight or flight’) shrinks and only the pre-frontal cortex is active (part of the brain associated with awareness, concentration/ focus & decision making).

 

These findings confirm that people who practice mindfulness significantly increase their neuro-plasticity, which enhances mental agility, well-being, confidence and performance. In light of this scientific evidence, you now have a range of leading institutions[6] and successful people[7] utilising mindfulness. The question is; if these successful bodies and people are using mindfulness to enhance their performance, why aren’t you?

 

HOW CAN I START PRACTICING MINDFULNESS?

 

1. Daily Meditation: More and more people are turning to meditation as a preferred way to practice mindfulness because of the extended sense of clarity and focus it provides. I’ve been meditating for ten years now and can honestly tell you that with out it, I don’t believe I’d be able to get through my day. It anchors my being to everything that is important in my life and has taught me patience, compassion and how to keep a birds-eye perspective on things.

 

If you haven’t meditated before or perhaps have tried and haven’t had much luck in keeping your mind/ thoughts still, you should know that there are a multitude of ways you can meditate and that it isn’t necessarily about keeping your thoughts still at all. Meditation is about being completely present in the moment.

 

When meditating you should be in a comfortable position, with your spine up straight. Then shift your focus to your breath, being completely aware of the air flow entering your body, causing your diaphragm and stomach to expand as you inhale, and leaving your body, causing them to contact when you exhale. Anchor your consciousness to the present moment by focussing on your minds eye (the area between your eyes) whilst simultaneously focussing on your breath, which should after a while get into a drawn out, calm and sustained rhythm.  

 

For a more detailed guide you can visit: http://msia.org.au/how-to-meditate/ or google ‘guided meditation’. A minimum of 15 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night is the recommended time one should mediate. If you’re able to maintain this practice, after a few weeks you will feel a tremendous benefit to your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

 

2. Prolonged act: Another way to practice mindfulness is to introduce the process of bringing your complete and undivided attention to any prolonged act that you perform during your day.  For example, It can be applied to the act of brushing your teeth, driving to work, having a cup of tea, going for a walk, or any other act that you may consider to be mundane or part of your daily routine.


If we were to take the act of your lunchtime walk for instance; your sole objective would be to bring your complete and undivided attention to your internal and external experiences as they are occurring in the present moment and to sustain this from the beginning to the end of your walk.

 

Starting with your breath, you’d be aware of its tempo, the airflow and its affect on your body, your heart rate etc. before becoming aware of your senses and their contact with the outside world. You’re aware of each step hitting the ground for instance, the gentle breeze against your face and the associated feelings.

 

Then moving to your external world, you’d be aware of the sounds around you, other people going about their day and the rest of your immediate environment; all along doing your best to remaining unbiased, limiting your judgements and not labelling anything as good and bad. You keep this process going until the end of your walk and repeat it daily. In a matter of days you will find a profound sense of calmness, focus and clarity has been achieved.

 

3. The 21 day no complaints challenge: is something an American preacher came up with to assist his constituents with their negative self-talk and to his surprise it spread like wild-fire with many people reporting that if you if you make it to 21 days, it’s a life changer!

 

The way it works is simple, all you need is a comfortable bracelet of some sort, even a rubber band will suffice. When you catch yourself complaining about something, you switch the bracelet to the other wrist, with the challenge being that you have to make it to 21 days on the same wrist.

 

For the purpose of the challenge a complaint is any negative judgement cast upon an individual or a situation, without offering a viable solution. For example, let’s say you were on a bus and the bus driver suddenly hit the brakes; you catch your inner dialogue saying: ‘What’s wrong with this idiot, doesn’t he know how to drive a bus!’ This would be classified as a complaint because there’s a negative judgement cast upon the driver and no solution or rationalisation of the situation offered. If however, you caught yourself complaining but rationalised it by saying, ‘Well may be the guy in front of him is at fault’ or  ‘who knows what happened, at least no one is hurt’ then you’ve taken an objective perspective that defuses and dilutes the complaint.

 

This challenge is life changing because it is teaching us to be aware of our inner self-talk and negative judgements/ or complaints. It compels us to look at situations in a more objective manner and this is what mindfulness is all about.

 

HOW MINDFULNESS EQUALS EMPOWERMENT

 

When practicing mindfulness, our conscious mind confronts our subconscious programming and anchors our awareness to the present moment. When we’re completely present in the moment, we’re not thinking about matters outside our control, such as in the past or future; we’re increasing the neuro-plasticity in our mind (as only the pre-frontal cortex is active), enabling us to strengthen our focus, concentration and positive decision-making capability.

 

It is from this platform that we can exercise rational reasoning and execute choices that are informed, positive and unbiased. It is from this platform that we can exercise critical thinking, which is the ability to think in an objective, non-judgemental way about a situation before offering a measured and unbiased response.

 

Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge the multitude of layers that make up this reality; from the molecular, to the planetary, to everything in between. We see that our subconscious programming or mental blue print of the world (unique to our experiences and belief system) is merely one perspective and that this world is a mosaic of human perspectives, each contributing to the layers of this multi-faceted ‘reality’. This comprehension in itself is empowering, even liberating!

 

Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.  By practicing mindfulness each day we are enabling our mind to make choices from an all-encompassing, birds-eye perspective that is cognisant, accepting and appreciative of this gift we call life. This is truly empowering. If we all operated from this level of consciousness, can you imagine the world we’d live in?

 

_____________________________________________

[1] Beyond Blue has released a finding that 45% of Australians will at some point

experience a mental health condition in their lifetime: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts

[2] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

[3] The Kybalion, Hermetic Philosophy, by Three Initiatives, 1912, Yogi Publication  

 Society, p.11.

[4] The Open Mind Institute (TOMI) is an organisation I co-founded that delivers presentations, work shops and one-one-coaching sessions in relation to matters of the mind, such as; practicing mindfulness, critical thinking, resilience, metacognition, attention control and enhancing emotional intelligence. See www.tomi.org.au for further details.

[5] From a Western perspective, mindfulness has been a buzzword for the last 10 years or so, largely perceived as a ‘fluffy’ concept that is lacking in substance or scientific credibility. Many consider mindfulness to have its origins in Buddhism but even before Buddha’s birth some 2500 years ago, Vedic’s & Hindu’s were practicing a range of mindfulness mediations. So, it’s been around for thousands of years but the credibility of mindfulness has only recently been cemented as a result of functional magnetic resonance imaging.

[6] Havard University has rolled out a mindfulness based program for its staff in 2017.

[7] From Angelina Jollie, Richard Gere and Sting, to Labron James, Mark Zuckerberg and  

Richard Branson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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