Being present is important. If we aren’t present, then we cannot engage in life and respond to what is in front of us. Paying attention can be hard for a lot of people. It takes a special type of resilience to interface with the moment and what the moment might require. In my work as a Counselor and Behavior Therapist, I start most of my sessions with clients with mindfulness practice. We sit quietly and transition from whatever happened before the session and orient to the moment; focusing solely on breathe. Most people tend to chuckle and at times push back relaying feeling a bit awkward sitting with another person and just breathing without talking even for a few minutes. I can understand how this might feel a bit odd, as we don’t get much opportunity to practice just “being” in a quiet space alone or with another. When we do, the mind starts to go and run its’ “thought ticker” one thought after another. In the world of meditation, this is referred to as the “monkey mind.” Rambling, “Monkey mind “thoughts do not get judged as negative. Being able to notice them and to observe the mind is deemed skillfully positive – identifying the content, patterns and habits that tend to drive as I put it “the behavioral bus.” It is when we know what is there that we can develop the ability to discern how to move forward. So, why would we make time to be quiet and focus on breathing? As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, because “Our lives depend on it!” Mindfulness helps with focus through cultivating full attention. Mindfulness helps us “show up” to life and to be able to see and accept things for what they truly are so that we can respond effectively.
Mindfulness helps separate fact from fiction.
There is a biological basis supporting the value of cultivating mindfulness and attention. Studies at the University of Wisconsin have shown that anxious and depressed people have different brain activity. They had an overactive right prefrontal cortex associated with certain types of negative affect accompanied by increased vigilance to threat-related cues, a symptom that often occurs with anxiety. After practicing mindfulness, the left prefrontal cortex “the feel good centers” became more active. Another study with high-tech office workers showed right frontal to left frontal changes in activation along with improved mood, more engagement in daily activities and more hardy immune systems. Studies have also shown that Tibetan monks who had extensive experience practicing mindfulness had the least anxiety and depression as well as the most positive measures of well-being. Massachusetts General Hospital studies have also shown that mindfulness decreased the amygdala’s emotional reactivity and increased the brain’s capacity for reason, planning, and executive function. Perhaps this is a robust case for investing the energy be more mindful and using “down time” to “tune in” versus “tuning out.” Positive habits inside create positive habits outside.