Mindfulness has many definitions. I like to consider it as a state of mind which is aware, present and non judgemental. The practice of mindfulness has allowed me to increasingly respond to life's situations vs react. The roots of mindfulness based practices are often considered to lie in "Vipassana" meditation. Modern day pioneers of the popular mindfulness based stress reduction - 8 week courses like Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr Mark Williams bring an ancient truth to modern times.
Many leading universities and organisations offer opportunities to take an 8 week mindfulness course. I was a member of the University of Cambridge mindfulness society and had the privilege to take such a course taught by Dr Elizabeth English and Simon McKibbin. The society was a place where students were empowered to live more completely and joyfully.
Taking the 8 week course was a reminder of the Buddhist meditation I had been taught as a child. A practice which I integrated less well as a young adult. Re-learning mindfulness as a graduate student helped me to create a more mature practice. I took what I had learnt as a child and adult, to create a tool box I could use, to suit the varying demands of my life.
Embracing mindfulness is an enriching experience as it allows us to savour the present moment and experience it fully. It freed me from the fragmentation and stress of trying to be at two places in the same time.
There are many ways to learn mindfulness. On-line courses, in-person courses, retreats, apps such as head space/calm/sync-tuition, and videos on platforms like youtube/vimeo are a few examples. I recommend looking for a qualified practitioner who resonates with your own personal style. Remember that taking a course or a one to one class is just the beginning. Cultivating a practice that is creative, fun and a joy to sustain is the secret to long term benefits.
Having a community is also supportive to growth. I sustain my mindfulness practices by being part of the University of Cambridge Alumni Group: Mindfulness after Cam. A community is particularly valuable when life is stressful. Community members help you maintain a balanced perspective. They also show you that the challenges you face are universal. We all have days that are upside down. A group can help us connect back and include mindfulness in our self care routines.
One of the pitfalls of engaging with mindfulness is to turn it into a sterile must do activity on your daily planner. Soon it will bring you grief vs. relief!!! I know because I have been there and made the mistake.
Integrating elements of aesthetic beauty, compassion and kindness with mindfulness open our hearts to a richer experience and allow a gentle yet powerful integration of thinking with feeling and intuition.
When I think of mindfulness today I often picture this statue in Rio. It is the openness of the embrace and the balance / grounded-ness of the image which gives me a sense of being completely accepted. I also draw on the inspiration of the landscape. It is a statue at the top of a mountain. A mountain which is interconnected with other mountains of the range.
Choosing visual images, and objects in our environment as touch points to enhance our mindfulness is a powerful way to practice not only as an individual but as a community.
Mindfulness based teachings are also evolving to include the nourishment of the heart. One of the experiences I cherished was a free on line course by the Institute of Heart of Math. It inspired me to deepen my study and certify as a Heart Math Instructor.
The world of teaching and learning mindfulness is an evolution. I often learn from my patients too. They come and show me the new courses and retreats that have improved the quality of their lives.
The beginners mind which is curious yet discerning is important. Together we can a mindful much happier society.
Here is a video from a joint event between the Mindfulness and Medical Society at the University of Cambridge in 2021. Courtesy of Mindfulness after cam.