In essence mindfulness is a meditation practice that transcends from Buddhism which involves focusing on the internal and external experiences in the present moment. In a world where we worry about the past and the future it’s certainly a positive practice to cultivate and has been used in Western psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s to help with a variety of psychological conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to drug addiction.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with establishing mindfulness-based stress reduction to help patients suffering from chronic pain and in the 1990s he was invited to discuss his work at Google, the pioneers of workplace wellbeing.
In 1997 Eckhart Tolle famously wrote The Power of Now. He had suffered from deep depression for most of his adult life until he was 29, when he underwent what he described as an inner transformation. For the next few years he wandered around unemployed in a state of bliss before writing the book that would become a best seller.
It is no accident that this man who struggled with the same demons that so many of us battle with on a daily basis has found resonance with such a wide public in his writing, because there is an awful lot of sense in practicing being happy in the now. With so much going on around us all the time, the simplicity of acknowledging merely what we are doing and feeling in this singular moment is actually extremely powerful whether you’re a world leader or the average person going about their daily business – it actually just boils down to the one moment.
As Tolle said: “Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
That said, some of the most powerful and influential people practice mindfulness as a way towards physical and emotional wellbeing. People whose past, present and future you may think of as being one giant ball of happiness practice simply being in the moment to remain sane and content. Arianna Huffington, one of the world’s most successful female entrepreneurs has extolled its virtues in her book Thrive, while Emma Watson, Davina McCall, Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey have all endorsed the practice in more recent years.
Of course, where there’s a celebrity following there’s cynicism to quickly follow and in 2015 the Daily Mail described mindfulness as a ‘meditation fad’, although with more than 40 years of practice in Western culture alone it seems that it is an awful lot more than a fad and it continues to grow in popularity as a way of creating health and happiness.
Businesses are also embracing the practice as a way of increasing awareness and reducing destructive patterns of behaviour at work, as wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important part of creating a happy, healthy and more productive workforce. Leading companies including Apple, Google, McKinsey & Company, Deutsche Bank and Procter & Gamble have all implemented mindfulness programs for their employees according to Forbes, with striking results as employees reported a greater capacity to listen, concentrate an be more productive.
For many however, accepting the now is also a vital part of coming to terms with difficult and trying situations such as illness and personal struggles and traumatic decision making. It has even been integrated into CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other therapy practices.
Which brings us onto the next point about mindfulness, one of the key points that Tolle points out about it, and equally the Buddhist monks from whose spirituality the practice stems, is that at its core, mindfulness is a route to happiness. It is after all a way of being and certainly it seemed to work for Tolle.
Perhaps the greatest beauty of mindfulness is that it isn’t something that requires large amounts of spending to practice it or achieve it. It’s simply about giving yourself time to appreciate the moment that you’re in, being quiet and meditating on the world that’s immediately around you. Bringing yourself back to the present moment.
There’s lots of ways and practices that help people to achieve that, and the Internet is littered with suggestions, ranging from quiet meditation to going for a walk to clear your mind and think quietly, but ultimately that’s what it comes down to, slowing your thoughts down and being ok in the present moment.
The NHS has a number of suggestions on how to be ‘more mindful’ and the ones we particularly likes are: interrupt the autopilot and notice the everyday from the food you eat to the air you breathe, watch your thoughts and don’t see the worries crowding your head as problems but rather as events that are passing through your mind, and name your thoughts and feelings – recognise anxiety as a feeling and let it pass through, but realise that’s all it is – it’s just anxiety.
In short, while there’s an app for just about everything now and advice on just about every way to relax, unwind, get fit and improve your life, what could be more simple and more effective than simply appreciating the now?
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