By Kris Kile
The concept of mindfulness is becoming all the rage in many circles. Yoga, mediation, “mindful practices” are becoming more and more in vogue, being promoted to employees in Google, other Silicon Valley companies, and elsewhere. In January 2014, Time Magazine’s cover story was The Mindful Revolution. The explosion in applied neuroscience and neurobiology continues to generate evidence of the value of being mindful.
The promise many extend through mindfulness is increased peace, serenity and calm….a relief in this increasingly distracted and frenetic world.
Yet, in my experience, there remains a HUGE GAP between the percentage of people who are aware of mindfulness and the percentage of people who are consistently practicing it.
My personal experience in working with people in workshops, personal coaching and in other learning venues, is that perhaps 5% of people actively working to improve themselves embrace a serious pursuit of developing mindfulness practices. And of those 5%, perhaps 10 to 20% actually develop mindfulness practices into habits.
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat Zinn, one of the mindfulness pioneers in modern America, says mindfulness is, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
Dr. Daniel Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology defines mindful awareness as awareness of present-moment experience, with intention and purpose, without grasping on to judgments….. He defines mindful awareness practice as a skill-building training that focuses attention on intention and the cultivation of awareness.
Those definitions seem pretty open-ended and they do not prescribe how one attempts to accomplish this state of being. But, they are a good starting point.
What Mindfulness is NOT
From a practical point of view, I think it helps to think of what mindfulness is not. Or, put another way, what is the opposite of mindfulness?
- Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness.
- Paying Attention to the present moment is the opposite of Being On Automatic
- Being aware with Intention is the opposite of Reacting In The Moment
- Being Aware Non-Judgmentally is the opposite of Being Unaware With Automatic Assessments, Assumptions and/or Judgments
- Being Present is the opposite of Interpreting the Present Moment through Your History or Perceived Future
Why do so many find mindfulness
interesting but so few practice it?
Perhaps one of the reasons is that it runs so contrary to our brain’s normal survival wiring.
- Our brain is wired to assess threats first and foremost. It stores the times we have been hurt in our memory—most of it in unconscious memory.
- The threat assessment part of the brain—the amygdala, is actually located right next to the memory center-the hippocampus, in the center of your brain. They are neighbors.
- And they live on the “other side of town” from your thinking brain center—the pre-frontal cortex, which is primarily in your forehead region.
So, your brain’s normal bias towards noticing threats—real and imagined—is enhanced by your threat assessment center residing next door to your memory.
- This accentuates the possibility of hauntings from past hurts to give additional energy and bias to events happening in the present.
- It biases your present experience, so that you often can interpret current events incorrectly, due to an unconscious desire to prevent hurts from the past re-occurring.
This tendency does not go away on its own. It has to be tamed, without negating it. You don’t want to eliminate it (you couldn’t even if you wanted to, anyway) because it also fulfills a healthy function of protecting you from harm.
Perhaps it sounds complicated. But, the beauty is that taming it is simple. Not easy by any stretch. But simple.
- Simple, but counter-intuitive.
- Simple, but contrary to our normal way of relating based on the brain’s bias towards survival.
- Simple, but completely contrary to the cultural drift and focus.
However, the benefits of taking on mindfulness practices are so immense, it is well worth the effort. We will explore effective ways to engage this in future blog posts.
Question: What do you notice gets in the way of being mindful? Post your comments on the Facebook timeline.