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Wellbeing: Demystifying mindfulness

Every Issue

Cite as: September 2015 89 (9) LIJ, p.97

Knowing how to focus the mind can have huge benefits.

I can feel the anxiety about a contract I’ve drafted still swirling around my mind as I walk through the revolving door onto Collins Street. I find a space near the curb and, facing into the street, I close my eyes, inhale deeply and pay attention to the sensations in my body. The first thing I notice is how tight my abdominal muscles are. I let them loosen. Then I discover tension in my shoulders. I allow them to drop. My thoughts become clearer: that a clause I’ve drafted will not withstand the partner’s scrutiny or, if she doesn’t notice it, it will surely be picked up by the other side. I notice that there is also fear present – of embarrassment, of damage to my relationship with the partner, my position in the firm. However, after a while, I can recognise these thoughts and emotions as just thoughts and emotions, and not necessarily true or defining who I am.

I notice the warmth of the sun on my face and feel my hair move in the breeze. I walk off with a lighter step, in search of some lunch.

This is mindfulness. It can be defined as “the intentional cultivation of moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.”1

In mindfulness training, we are training the brain to pay attention. I usually begin by encouraging participants to renew their appreciation of their body’s sensory capacities. This helps to steady the attention in preparation for the more challenging task of applying it to thoughts and emotions. Our goal is not just to experience thoughts and emotions, but to become aware that we are experiencing them. This seemingly simple shift allows us to respond to circumstances as they arise with clarity and effectiveness.

Research shows that practising mindfulness helps gain control over unhealthy thought processes that lead to stress, anxiety and depression.2 The unhelpful thoughts may not necessarily disappear but by practising mindfulness, we can develop a different, easier, relationship to them and to ourselves.

There are a number of ways to learn mindfulness depending on your preferred learning style. If you prefer learning solo, then there is an array of books and internet sites and apps (search “mindfulness meditation”) to assist.

Many people also find the support of a group and a teacher helpful. Yet mindfulness teaching is an unregulated profession. The following are some criteria you might apply in seeking a teacher:3

  • authenticity – Do they have a mindfulness practice?
  • authority – What training have they had?
  • friendship – Can you connect with them?
  • Practically, this may involve asking your friends about their experiences, engaging in some internet research, or asking your HR department.

    Try this: arrive early to your next meeting. Sit. Leave your phone alone. Pause. Take a deep relaxed breath. Perhaps close your eyes. With your mind’s eye, spend a few moments noticing the contact points between your body and the floor, the chair. Bring to mind your purpose for this meeting. Proceed.

    Craig Delphine is a trained mindfulness teacher. He is also a financial services and superannuation lawyer at UniSuper (www.mindnow.com.au). 1. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts. 2. M Goyal et al (2014) “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Wellbeing: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” JAMA Internal Medicine 174 (3): 357–68; Hofmann SG et al (2010) “The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review’ J Consult Clin Psychol 78 (2): 169–83. 3. Following McCown et al (2010) “Teaching Mindfulness” New York Springer.

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