Mindfulness is not what you think
Bringing mindfulness into your life
An extremely busy life, restlessness, ruminative thoughts, anxiety or pain; they often cause a lot of stress. This is bothering us and we tend to focus all our energy on these disturbances. It has to change, I can no longer cope with it. In the end there is very little awareness of the positive sides of life. Maybe you recognize this habit. Youíre not the only one.
Reduce stress, increase joy
Most of us struggle with stress, fear and pain. Life doesnít need to be like this. You too can learn to handle (work) stress and health issues in a balanced and effective way. Practicing mindfulness teaches us how to be present, here and now. This way we can easily let go of obstructing thoughts, emotions and tension.
The Eight-week Program
The mindfulness training program has been developed by American scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn and is based on an eight week schedule. It combines elements of Eastern mindfulness techniques with the innovative insights of modern Western psychology. In the past decades thousands of people have followed the program. Throughout the years a lot of research has been done on the effects of mindfulness training.
About Mindful awarenessĎBeing mindfulí simply means: being aware of the present experience. We usually get dressed, drink a glass of milk or walk to the bakery in an automatic way, without really noticing it, unaware.But we can also live in a more conscious way: aware of each and every moment, as it unfolds. Every object or event, when experienced with full attention, comes to life and starts blossoming, clear and sparkling like never before. In full awareness, all experiences deepen.The present moment has this unique quality of peace and acceptance. With awareness we are fully present for what we could call life’s ‘dimension of depth’. We are awake and aware and experiences feel as fresh as morning dew. That’s the world of mindfulness.Of course, we can think of the past, but we can’t be in the past. The past is no longer here. The same goes for the future: we can think of it, but we can’t be there. Only in the present, in the here and now, we can be… present.Mindfulness is part of everyday life. It can accompany us in each and every moment, in everything we do. We can put our children to sleep in a mindful way, drive to the gym in a mindful way, make a telephone call in a mindful way.Bringing back the attention to the present moment is something you can practice with the experiences of everyday life. Nothing mystical about that. Mindfulness brings your thoughts and emotions back to reality, with your feet firmly on the ground. It teaches you not to lose yourself in old memories, fantasies or doom scenarios of the future. It teaches you to remain here, in the present moment. This way your thoughts won’t be wandering off all the time, but instead you’ll be here and able to observe in a clear way.
Mindfulness has nothing to do with philosophies, religions or gurus. It simply teaches us to live more and mor ein the here and now.
Gateway to enjoyment
When was the last time that you enjoyed your life? Really enjoyed it? Many people donít have an easy answer to this question. Instead, a long thoughtful pause follows.
They become aware that, when they actually think about it, itís been a long time that they have really enjoyed something, that they were totally relaxed and open to experience. Suddenly they start realizing how seldom moments of true happiness occur in everyday life.
Joy comes naturally
Still, enjoying life is simple and easy because itís a fundamental skill of life. It doesnít have to be obtained. We are all born with it; babies and children always enjoy themselves. Before you know it, they are playing. Itís like a natural response, they canít even help it. Did we, adults, simply forget about this wonderful skill?
The secret of enjoyment
The secret of enjoyment occurs when the experience is completely aligned with the present: here and now. A pleasant memory, a comforting dream or an exciting future event can give a lot of joy, fair enough. But it still isnít quite the same as enjoying something here and now through all senses like sight, taste, smell and touch, enjoying reality itself.
Donít search too hard
Being present, here and now; thatís all there is to it, itís all we need. Messengers of joy come towards us in a natural way: a singing bird, a cool glass of water, a juicy apple, fresh, clean sheets. Those are average, daily events. When we want to enjoy life, we donít have to look very far.
Always somewhere else
Our skill to enjoy life is always there. No person goes without, itís in everyone of us. But, in order to be able to get to it, we adults need to take a step back from our minds, with its persistent mental activities. Our mind wanders off constantly, usually to the past or towards to the future. It leads us away from our senses, from here and now. The mind thus creates a barrier to the present moment.
Mindfulness simply focuses on consciously allowing the present experience. Mindfulness is about being aware of the present experience. Practicing mindfulness is the fastest way to a colorful life filled with awareness. Mindfulness teaches us to live from moment to moment, with childlike curiosity and openness. Open for joy.
Stress prepares for immediate action. Stress is a natural response and has a healthy effect as long as it takes a short period of time. People and animals need stress, so the body can rely on a very fast response which for humans was very useful back in the hunting days: fighting or fleeing.
The stress reaction becomes chronic
Back in the old days, when humans had to survive in the jungle, every threat – like an attack of an animal – was intense and short. But this no longer is the reality of everyday life. In our demanding daily life this system is being triggered so frequently, that it doesnít have time to recover. Our mind continuously spots threats and feels lack of control. Stress hormones are produced continuously and wonít be broken down. As a result, chronic stress can develop.
The price of stress
We all know the price of stress: loss of joy, creativity and productivity. Itís an alienated feeling, as if we are being commanded by activities, not able to be in the present moment. Stress is not only a personal problem. A recent TNO-report states that between 150.000 and 300.000 employees annually call in sick due to stress. Stress is of tremendous economical concern, and seems impossible to solve. But is it really incurable?
Stress doesnít come from the outside
In most anti-stress courses participants learn to manage how their time more effectively, to say no when they run out of time and how to communicate in a clear way. Thatís fine. But still these courses miss out on something essential: the simple fact that our own mind causes stress, not our demanding society. When the mind is convinced something is difficult and impossible to deal with, then it quickly switches to the stress mechanism. This is an unconscious response: suddenly you feel stressed out. The only way to control this mechanism, is to focus on the way our mind works and how it causes stress.
Switching the gears of the stress mechanism
An effective way to control the stress mechanism is the training of awareness. We become aware of the mindís tendency to wander off, it’s worrying about the past and the future. Then there is a choice. Either we let automatic and unconscious stress patterns play out, or we choose to be aware of what is actually happening now. While focusing on the present moment, the mind has no time left to worry and so our stress mechanism isnít triggered continuously anymore.
Mindfulness is a skill, and new skills and insights are obtained by doing, by practicing rather than learning with the mind. Every session of the course includes:
- guided awareness and concentration exercises
- yogal exercises
- sitting and walking meditations
- theoretical aspects
In addition to that we take time to exchange practicing experiences, thus increasing awareness of our patterns.
The program consists of eight sessions of 2,5 hours each, plus one full day. The program takes up to eight weeks: a period of time which is limited, however enough to develop the basic skills for mindfulness. After the last session you have developed the necessary tools to continue by yourself. Most participants integrate the awareness exercises in their daily routine. After the program you can sign up to follow up sessions.
Training mindfulness is training a skill. Obtaining a skill, any skill, requires practice. While following the program it is important to practice the meditations, movement and awareness exercises at home daily. The homework experiences are being discussed during the sessions.
The program workbook consists of the manual “Mindfulness in eight weeks”. The manual consists of inspiring texts, tips and lists. Participants will also get the E-book version with guided exercises and meditations for their home practice.
Itís best to wear comfortable clothing that wonít obstruct the belly, in order to be able to breathe freely.
Taking part in the program requires no physical demands.
After six sessions there is an entire day to practice mindfulness. Itís a full day with guided meditations and exercises. It allows the participants to experience mindfulness on a deeper and more intense level.
In check talk
Before you enroll there will be an interview (by phone or face to face) to see if this course will live up to your expectations.
Mindfulness Training: For Who?
What you put in, you will get out
If you want to improve the quality of you life, the mindfulness training program might be the right thing to do, especially when you want to learn how to deal with lifeís obstacles in a new way. Participants are expected to be motivated. Practising on a daily basis is an important part of the training and will need to be carried out seriously in order to benefit from the training program. Your motivation will determine the result.
- learn how to deal with difficult emotions, like tension, anxiety or pain
- spend less energy on worrying
- be able to enjoy a busy life
- find more moments of joy, peace and inner stillness
- experience each moment with awareness
- increase your energy levels
When not advisable?
If you want to solve specific issues and mental barriers, like acute psychic distress, conflict situations or career issues, then you will benefit more from individual therapy or coaching. Individual therapy is also advisable in case of psychosis or addiction. Mindfulness training is not specifically designed for people suffering from attention disorder. Please discuss this with the trainer.
The mindfulness training program is often not the most appropriate solution to crises in social life. E.g., when you are in the middle of a divorce, moving house or going through dramatic changes in family or professional life, then itís best to postpone your participation to the course to a later date.
Situations like these may be overwhelming by times, making it hard to focus on the training and its exercises. Moreover, in rough times it may be hard to find the time for the daily homework.
Mindfulness training is proven to be effective in reducing the following symptoms:
- work stress and burnout
- negative thinking, ruminating
- relapse to depression†
- chronic pain and the emotional effects of a serious disease
- symptoms regarding anxiety and fear
- physical symptoms which are stress and tension related, like high blood pressure, psoriasis, fatigue, RSI and insomnia
Mindfulness training improves the skills to:
- cope with stressful circumstances
- increase energy levels
- develop a better concentration (due to less worrying)
- set and maintain personal boundaries (due to increased self esteem)
- experience and enjoy the present moment due to a deeper level of awareness
Mindfulness meditation seems to improve physical resistance. It reduces the sensitivity for negative experiences (reactivity). (More on this subject on the (Dutch) research) page. Therefore the mindfulness training seems to be beneficial to people who are physically or mentally going through a difficult time in their lives.
ButÖ the connection is not linear
When you start a diet you like to see exactly how many ounces you lose. When you train for a marathon you can calculate quite precisely how much and how extensive youíll need to practice to be ready at the right time. This is how our result-oriented mind calculates. We want to know exactly what results to expect from the efforts we put in. The training of mindfulness offers results as well. But quite in a different way: there is no predictable connection between effort and result. Practicing in the morning doesnít guarantee a relaxed and balanced day. Sometimes the contrary seems to be the case: practicing can cause restlessness and tension.
A true paradox
How can this be? The training of mindfulness doesnít focus on the changing of problems, but on changing our attitude towards problems. We canít change tension or a stressful mood, but mindfulness helps us to look at painful issues from a different point of view. It encourages us to gently move problems out of the focal point of our awareness. And so difficulties will tend to get less important and less dominant, which – in the end – changes them after all. A true paradox indeed.
A natural process
The process of focusing on the present moment instead of on problems of the past and the future, is a skill that will become part of everyday life of those who practice regularly. Sometimes it seems changes take place just by themselves. Itís a most beneficial effect of living a mindful life, a life with awareness for the here and now. But of course itís not a process that can be forced. Practicing creates fertile soil, but the seeds have to grow by themselves. You canít pull them up by force.
So the two main benefits are:
- shifting problems away from our focus, into the background
- being aware and present in this very moment, here and now