Although we come at the problem differently, leading mindfulness-based, stress reduction researchers like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Herb Benson and I share mutual respect. For reasons I don’t understand, it seems that, for some others in the meditation camp, there is discordance between those of us who study mindfulness without meditation and those who study the more eastern versions of mindfulness that result from mediation. Both approaches lead to health, stress reduction, and well being. Many use a mindfulness practice to create inner peace. Our work has shown, in addition to quieting the inner chatter, that the world around us—eg. textbooks, GPS systems, persuasive communications—can be designed to foster mindfulness.
To bring all of this research together, Amanda Ie, Christelle Ngnoumen and I just finished editing the Wiley Mindfulness Handbook. Leaders in the field were asked to find the similarities between west and east and suggest ways of going beyond and integrating current work. By joining forces, an evolution in consciousness is that much closer.
I just returned from NYC from an invitation only conference on the third metric for success: beyond money and power, hosted by Arianna Huffington. I’m not one for mindless flattery, so it is with great sincerity that I say that Arianna is a force to be reckoned with. She’s extremely bright and incredibly effective so perhaps it’s no surprise that the event was so successful. For me, however, the event cut both ways. It’s been forever since I attended a conference without being a speaker. This was even more unusual since the event was really a conference on the importance of being mindful. Not being acknowledged by speaker after speaker was a blow to my ego. At times I felt like saying, maybe shouting, “yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more since I’ve been studying this since the 1970’s and making all the recommendations that were being presented as new.”
Let me respond now to a few of the questions asked but not really answered.
Katie Couric said she had trouble with the idea of meditating and asked for an alternative but none was given. We’ve been researching mindfulness without meditation for over thirty five years. Actively drawing novel distinctions is the essence of mindfulness. One can simply ask themselves how the person they live with, the job they are doing, or/and the environment they are in is different is several ways from the day before and make a practice of looking for novelty. When we travel we expect everything to be new and so we notice, become engaged, and enjoy ourselves. The problem is that when we’re not on vacation we suffer from an illusion of stability and think everything we once experienced is the still the same. Everything is always changing and looks different from different perspectives. Bringing that expectation of not knowing to our daily lives will encourage us to actually notice and be in the present.
Dr. Mark Hyman, who I like and respect, responded to Katie by saying essentially “no pain , no gain,” a statement with which I strongly disagree. If there is pain, probably best to find some way of gaining. But one can gain painlessly. Mindfulness is effortless not painful. In fact, humor relies on mindfulness. A joke is funny when you understand something in one context and realize you didn’t at first see that it could be understood very differently. There may be some effort in one trying to be mindful through the practice of meditation, but , again, there is a path to mindfulness without meditation.
Someone else briefly mentioned that schools should teach mindfulness. In my 1997 book, the Power of Mindful Learning, I discuss how our schools actually promote mindlessness and how easy mindful teaching/mindful learning actually is.
Several people spoke about the importance of taking moments out of the day to renew ourselves. This would certainly be an improvement over a 40 hour mindless work week. The problem I have with this is that it implicitly suggests that work has to be tedious or stressful. I’m sure among this very successful audience I wasn’t the only one who loves the work we do. If we are working mindfully, the work is rewarding and energizing without the need for renewal. Many years ago we did research where we had people performing the exact same task but for half it was defined as work and for half as play. The former group had trouble paying attention to the task while for the latter it was enjoyable. If you feel you NEED a vacation, chances are you’re doing your work mindlessly, in which case, renewal breaks are important.
Several spoke about the money that corporations would save in health care costs by teaching their employees to be mindful. Many companies are reluctant to break up the work day for time for meditation. For those companies mindfulness without meditation is a lively alternative. Moreover, we have data providing evidence that mindfulness without meditation results in greater creativity and innovation.
Once I thought about how nice it would be to live in a world where our healthcare, corporations, schools and the general culture were more mindful, it ceased to matter to me whether this came about with or without meditation or some combination of the two. I settled into my chair and completely enjoyed the rest of the event.
‘ll be jointing the Faith Middleton Show on WNPR (CT Public Radio) on Monday afternoon, May 6, between 3PM and 4PM for a show about travel, and specifically how it can affect us.
I’ll be on Harvesting Happiness Talk Radio on Wednesday, May 6, at 12 pm EST, 9 am PST. You can tune in by going to www.toginet.com and clicking on the “Listen Live” button on the upper right corner. The call-in number for questions is 877-864-4869.
You an also log into the live chat – accessed from the Toginet home page, www.toginet.com and click on Live Chat.
I was recently part of a panel on stress at HSPH speaking about mindfulness. I stated that if we take a close look at stress, we’ll find that mindlessness is the culprit, and thus mindfulness may be the solution.
For the past 40 years, I have researched mindfulness without meditation. No matter how mindfulness is achieved, the end result is basically the same. For the Eastern perspective, mindfulness results from meditation, an important practice. Mindfulness as we study it, however, is achieved without meditation. It is the simple process of noticing new things. When we notice new things about people or ideas that we think we know, we come to see that we didn’t know them as well as we thought we did, and they become interesting again in the present. Everything is always changing and looks different from different perspectives. Since uncertainty is the rule, when we think we know, our mindlessness is in charge. The simple act of noticing is engaging and reveals that events don’t cause stress. It is the mindless view of events that leads to stress. Stress relies on two thoughts: first, that an event will happen, and second, that when it does, it will be awful. If we consider reasons it may not happen and also how it might have hidden advantages if it does happen, stress diminishes. There are advantages to most of what we initially take to be negative. When we taught this to people who were about to undergo major surgery in the 1970s, they became less stressed, took fewer pain relievers, and tended to leave the hospital sooner than participants in control groups not taught to be mindful.
In study after study over all these years, we find that teaching people this form of mindfulness results in: increased happiness; personal, interpersonal, and professional effectiveness; we become less judgmental; memory and attention improved; burnout is reduced; self-esteem increases; and we find an increase in longevity.
Each of these is related to stress. When we’re stressed, each system in our body becomes compromised, and we become more vulnerable to illness. When we feel ineffective at work or home, we may become stressed. When we’re stressed, we often have difficulty concentrating and remembering things. When we feel burnt out, we don’t function well at work and become stressed, and so on. Mindfulness helps reverse each of these problems. (Mindfulness also makes us more attractive and charismatic, and thus more effective leaders, but that is to be discussed elsewhere.)
There are major events that lead to stress, like loss of a loved one, rape, or being in a war. But for many of us, stress results from life’s daily hassles. Not having any large issue to attribute our stress to may itself be stressful. It is over these daily hassles that we have the most control.
Events don’t cause stress. A negative view of an event causes stress. By opening our minds to alternative views, we may find that some of those “tragedies” are merely inconveniences.
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