By Sharon E. Davison
In the midst of a hectic schedule, it really is possible to become a relaxed, calm observer and improve your wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a word that we are seeing more and more, in many contexts, and associated with many different things. Advertisements for a variety of goods and services use this word as an adjective to describe their product as being on trend and about wellbeing. Recently I saw an ad for “mindful bread” and wasn’t sure how bread could be mindful. When we see the term used in this way our understanding of what it is and its benefits may be incomplete. It is not a commodity or another technique. It is a source of health, happiness, and wellbeing for the many who learn and cultivate its practice.
Mindfulness is about awareness itself; the awareness one brings to living each moment with an acceptance of what is being experienced. With time the practice of noticing our thoughts, feelings and sensations again and again will develop more relaxation, calmness and peacefulness. Being calm and centred, we have a greater ability to see what conditions and habits have led to our lack of health, stress, or dissatisfaction with life as it is.
The practice of mindfulness is thousands of years old and until recently thought of in terms of spirituality, monasteries, and eastern religion. However, times are changing and this is not the only context that we can find mindfulness and mindfulness meditation today. Health care, education, and business are learning that formal mindfulness meditation and informal mindfulness practices in daily life are a powerful combination to support modern stress reduction and increase physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
In the same way that a brighter light allows us to see deeper into a darkened space, mindfulness allows us to see further into our selves with greater understanding of what clouds our natural state of wellbeing. Within this greater space and awareness we can relax, make change, or just learn to be with ourselves with self-care and compassion.
We see that being human is not about being perfect but living the lives we have been blessed with. We develop patience and learn to accept and appreciate others as we notice that everyone just wants to be safe, healthy and happy. Moving beyond the knots in our thinking, feelings, and actions from the demands of daily life, we bring the perspective of calm observer to whatever is going on. This in itself starts to impact and change our experience.
Research demonstrates the benefits of practice (and you do need to practise— reading about it is not enough). Studies show the positive impact of formal and informal practice on memory, attention span, pain management, anxiety, depression, immune system, circulatory health, and brain function. The list goes on. One interesting study noted a correlation between mindfulness practices in couples and enhanced relationship. Participants reported improved closeness, acceptance of each other, and general relationship satisfaction. This can be seen when couples come to retreats or classes together. (Elle Magazine columnist Stephanie Gilman writes in the November 2014 issue about coming to Sharon’s Mindfulness, Change and Living with Purpose retreat with her husband and how this experience helped them learn about each other and support their relationship after difficult times.) Evidence-based research and anecdotal stories bring us the same message: mindfulness supports increased wellbeing.
Through practising mindfulness we connect with the richness in our experience, the potential to be happy and enjoy each moment, and the capacity to make good decisions for a healthy and satisfying life. Whether we practise mindfulness from the perspective of a spiritual tradition, a holistic medicine, or for reducing stress and maintaining body and brain health, we will all benefit from Mindful Living.
Sharon E. Davison is an educator (BEd Adult), coach, and meditation practitioner who has recently relocated to the Okanagan Valley. She teaches Mindful Living, a course for stress reduction and increased wellbeing based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. Sharon has received instruction from many traditional meditation masters. She is a faculty member with the Applied Mindfulness Meditation certificate program at the Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
*Reprint from our Fall 2015 Issue