Cultivating Mindfulness - A Way to Achieve Well-being
Mindfulness refers to ’paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.’
In our everyday living, our mind wanders all the time, such as when our attention drifts, we multi-task, we get distracted by our thoughts. Moreover, our mind often gets into auto-pilot mode. Both prevent us from being mindful in our daily life.
Mind-wandering prevents us to be fully unaware of our perceptions, sensations, feelings and thoughts in the here-and-now. A research study published in Science found that mind wandering leads to unhappiness among people (Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010).
Auto-piloting: Our mind often gets into auto-pilot mode. In other words, we establish a habitual, over-learned, automatic pattern of cognitive-affective processing without giving conscious attention to our thinking or emotional responses. We are simply going through the motion without attending to ourselves or our surroundings and we are being reactive rather than wisely choosing appropriate responses in relation to our interactions with others and the environment.
By Practicing Mindfulness:
- We can gain the skills of moment-to-moment awareness and the insight into patterns of thoughts, feelings and interactions with others; thereby skillfully choosing helpful responses rather than automatically reacting.
- Individuals can directly observe the transience of all sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and material phenomena, and over time, become less self-centred, appreciate the interconnectedness with other people, and develop a sense of compassion towards themselves and others. With this sense of compassion and interconnectedness, we learn to rebalance our priorities by taking collective action that is conducive to well-being for all.
- Studies1 have demonstrated mindfulness training to be effective in the alleviation of pain, stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms as well as in the improvement of emotional, psychological, social, and sustainable well-being. It has been applied to children and families with positive results. Researchers also suggest the increase in mindfulness can promote sustainable behaviour among individuals in the support of a green environment.
Micro and Mesolevels (Families and Interpersonal Relationships)
Mindfulness can be applied to our relationships with our family, loved ones, and co-workers through mindful parenting and mindful communication. These involve (Duncan, Coatsworth and Greenberg, 2009):
- Active listening to others with full attention,
- Self-regulation of responses,
- Non-judgmental acceptance,
- Emotional awareness, and
- Compassion towards the self and others
Studies show that mindfulness training can cultivate greater compassion and empathy in individuals (Shapiro, Schwartz and Bonner, 1998). By having mindfulness practice on a given day, individuals reported greater levels of relationship happiness and relationship stress in successive days (Carson, Carson, Gil and Baucom, 2004).
Exo and Macrolevels (Organisational, Societal and National levels)
Mindful Organisations and Mindful Schools
In addition to the individual and relationship levels, in recent years, the idea of cultivating a mindful culture has been in place in many organizations and schools around the world. For example:
- Google has developed a mindful culture in their team. Trainers or speakers are invited to teach software engineers and technology leaders to increase their capacity to bring greater innovation, creativity, focus, change resilience and personal sustainability2 . Promoting organizational mindfulness can possibly increase job performance and satisfaction and relieve emotional exhaustion; thereby reducing the turnover of staff.
- In Australia and the United States, mindfulness training has been introduced to students and teachers in the schools in recent years. The programs mainly aim to improve some common issues among students, including inability to focus, stress among students and teachers, a lack of connection between students and their school community3 . However, the effectiveness of such programmes in stress reduction and depression relief is still under review.
Finally, the mindful lifestyle can be promoted in society. For example, Via Verde is a subsidized housing project in the South Bronx area of New York City that promotes a mindful way of life 4 :
- Providing a green living place with sustainable designs to save energy and affordable housing.
- Mix of private and public spaces encourages residents to spend time outside, with about 40,000 square feet of open spaces for 222 households.
- A series of stairway is designed to connect gardens on different floors with various uses, engaging resident.
- A community garden on the rooftop, of which the residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables.
In Hong Kong, although land is scarce, can we be more innovative and considerate in designing urban spaces to allow for more social engagement and mindfulness among our residents? Tim Ryan, the U.S. Congressman of Ohio, proposed the concept of ‘Mindful Nation’. According to him,
‘a mindful nation is about recognizing that we are all connected. We are in this together. At the present, we feel divided and scared, and have been made to believe that interdependence means we are totally on our own. But our experiences – as individuals and as a country – tell a different story. We know that when we join together, work together, and care about each other, our freedom actually increases.’ 5
This is what we aim for as sustainable well-being, or a sense of interdependence with all beings and the environment that facilitates us to transcend our individual interests for collective and sustainable welfare for all beings (Kjell, 2011).
Mindful Breathing (Hanh, 1992, pp. 8-9)
Pay conscious attention to your breathing. As you breathe in, you are aware of the following, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ As you breathe out, you are aware that ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’
Gradually, you can say in your mind ‘In’ and ‘Out’ to facilitate your attention in breathing. ‘In’ and ‘Out’ are simply words to help us concentrate on our breathing and bringing our body and mind together in the present moment.
No need to control or change your breathing. Just let it be. If you drift in your thinking as you breathe, no need to criticize or judge yourself, simply recognize that you have drifted and bring your attention back to your breathing. In just a few minutes you can realize the fruit of mindful breathing.
Walking Meditation (Hanh, 1991, pp.27-29)
Mindful walking is paying attention of our walking at every step and to simply enjoy walking --- walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk. The purpose is to be in the present moment, be aware of our breathing and our walking, to enjoy each step. Therefore we shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment.
When we first try mindful walking, we walk a little slower than ournormal pace.
Same with mindful breathing, you don’t need to control your working, just simply walk and be aware of the contact between your feet and the ground. Notice the movement of your limbs, the sensations as your feet contact the ground, gradually, you can expand your awareness to your whole body as you walk.
From time to time, when we see something beautiful, we may want to stop andlook at it—a tree, a flower, some children playing. As we look, we continue tofollow our breathing, lest we lose the beautiful flower and get caught up in ourthoughts. When we want to resume walking, we just start again.
Each step we take will create a cool breeze, refreshing our body and mind. Every step makes a flower bloom under our feet. We can do it only if we do not think of the future or the past, if we know that life can only be found in the present moment.
Eating Mindfully (Hanh, 1991, pp.23-26)
We turn off the TV, putdown our mobile phone and work, setting thetable, and finishing whatever needs to be done. When the food is on the table, wepractice breathing: ‘Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile,’ threetimes to recover ourselves completely.
To enable mindfulness during meals, you may like to eat silently from timeto time, bringing muchpeace and happiness. Also, we can talk to others mindfully that can nourish awareness and happiness.
Try to place your attention on the food, notice its looks, smell, texture, sound and eat one bite at a time. Notice and sense the changes of the food in your mouth as you chew. Recognize the sources of the food (e.g., sunlight, water, farmers, manufacturers, cooks) and appreciate it is now ready for your consumption. If you are distracted by any thoughts, feelings, sensations, or external events, simply stop, breathe, and place your attention back to your food and resume eating again.
please refer to: Amel, Manning, & Scott, 2009; Black, Milam, & Sussman, 2009; Bögels, Lehtonen, & Restifo, 2010; Brown & Ryan, 2003; Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004; Coatsworth, Duncan, Greenberg, & Nix, 2010; Dambrun, Ricard, Després et al., 2012; Duncan & Bardacke, 2010; Franco, Mañas, Cangas, & Gallego, 2010; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004; Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010; Khoury et al., 2013; Kjell, 2011; Lau & Hue, 2011; Mak, Chan, Cheung, Lin, & Ngai, under review.
 Source: Wisdom at Work, fromhttp://www.wisdomatwork.com/mindful-leadership/, accessed on 14 July, 2014.
 Source: Mindful Schools, fromhttp://www.mindfulschools.org/about/our-story/, accessed on 15 July, 2014.
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