When Norman Doidge wrote his book The Brain that Changes Itself he helped us understand what researchers had been discovering in recent years and, perhaps, what Buddha knew all along. The brain is no longer seen as fixed at birth or some later point in our lives. New neural pathways can be created throughout our lives and we need to develop strategies to encourage them. For example, if we have been anxious for years – worrying about the future – we have laid down neural pathways in our brain that are like deep ruts in the road – always leading to same place and slowing us down. Mindfulness can help us intentionally direct the mind to what is happening in the present. As we focus more on the here and now, we create new neural pathways in the brain. These new pathways gradually take over and the old ruts, along with our anxiety, diminishes and we can be emotionally available to those around us.
Mindfulness is the intentional process of paying attention, without judgement, to the unfolding of moment to moment experience.
Mindfulness requires us to find some quiet time in our day and focus on the here and now. We do this by focusing our awareness on our breath or on sensations in our body through a body scan exercise. Our minds love to take us away: to wander to the tasks and worries of everyday life. Our job is to simply notice when this has happened and gently bring our minds back to the object of our focus – our breath or our body sensations. Some people find it easier to focus on a mantra or to breathe in a sense of calm in the mind and with each breath out work to release any tension in the body and recite inwardly “calm……release” to maintain their focus.
Mindfulness is no longer relegated to monasteries and yoga studios. It is practised and promoted at leading organization such as Google and eBay. Emotional intelligence helps foster resilience, leadership, empathy and motivation. It helps individuals and organizations optimize performance and increase well being.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Some espouse “sitting on the cushion” for 45 minutes per day. Many of us don’t have that much time for solitude and instead we can work to spend 10 to 15 minutes sitting at our desk or lying down at home to do a mindfulness meditation. You can also incorporate mindfulness into the day in other ways: focusing on our breathing every time their car stops at a light; eating mindfully (chewing food until it is a soup in your mouth before swallowing); walking mindfully (bringing your attention to your breathing, the rhythm of your pace or the sights and sounds around you); washing dishes mindfully (noticing the temperature of the water, the weight of the dish in your hands, the bubbles in the sink) or bathing your children mindfully (tuning into what your child is saying, paying attention to the texture of their skin and the wash cloth you may be using).
When practice mindfulness, we are able to tune into ourselves and to hear, non-defensively, what others are saying. When we are truly present it is a gift, not only to ourselves, but to all those around us – employees, colleagues, friends, family and strangers.
Below are some resources to explore if you wish to integrate mindfulness into your daily routine.