Mindfulness has become an all too popular buzzword among CEO’s, self-help gurus and religious figureheads. It has become synonymous with something akin to a mental stress ball.
Although the terminology is sometimes regurgitated with blatant disregard for the actual practice, mindfulness can be much more than this and possibly the ultimate key to a good life.
Mindfulness relieves ordinary stress and anxiety and can even help with more extreme disorders of depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.
A Quick Experiment Shows The Necessity of Mindfulness
Stop thinking for five seconds. Just try it right now. Some will see the futility right away, while others can be so lost in thought they actually believe they had stopped thinking.
It is easy to think “Hey, I’m doing this” only to realize that is a thought in itself. Monitoring this incessant stream that cannot be controlled is what gives mindfulness its power.
Just like the old saying “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”; problematic thoughts we do not analyze will continue to cause issues.
Most human actions have an extreme dedication to the law of inertia. We tend to repeat patterns of behavior despite the good or bad outcomes that tend to follow.
The Problematic Brain Function That Mindfulness Erodes
Sam Harris does a masterful job explaining true mindfulness and effective methods in his book and lecture series titled Waking Up.
The opposite of mindfulness, he says, can be explained as being constantly lost in though.
“Being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking”, a state that is sure to bring out much confusion.
Simply observing your thoughts rather than acting on them for a few moments each day often gives clarity on the root causes of the stress in your life.
Is there a thought that keeps cropping up? Time to put that issue to the top of the priority list.
One of the most important takeaways from Harris’s thoughts on mindfulness is that although it is frequently touted in religious circles, it requires no compulsion of any religious belief for it to be effective.
Since no inherent belief is required, everyone can benefit from mindfulness.
Once you have truly began to be mindful you will notice that thoughts continue to rise and fall out of consciousness effortlessly, in reality without any control (as shown in the thought stopping experiment above).
Consciousness is Like a Back Seat Driver
David Eagleman goes as far as to claim that consciousness is closer to a stow away on a cruise ship than the captain of said ship.
In the co-pilot analogy, consciousness can be in charge of the turn by turn directions, inform the driver of the speed limit and where to make stops just like a backseat driver. However if his attention drifts for just a matter of moments the car could miss an exit and run off course.
The same is true in brain activity. Slight changes in thoughts or attention can run you way off course.
A simple wrong turn in thought can lead people to a snowball of anxiety and other problems.
This is why mindfulness can be so important. Just as the driver can turn around and adjust course once he is notified of the missed exit, paying close attention to your thoughts can stop you from going all the way down roads of negativity.
Research Is Showing Its Benefits
Continuing practice of mindfulness shows endless benefits. Everything from lowering blood pressure to boosting memory is possible with mindfulness.
Other studies show significant pain reduction in individuals with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
While all of these benefits show great promise for further health studies on the subject, the most important assistance I have found through mindfulness is its ability to give you a unique insight on YOU, who you really are, what drives you and what you want out of life.
Originally published on The Power of Ideas.