Awareness of mindfulness is growing in the West. Newspapers, radio shows and magazines feature articles on mindful techniques, but what is it, and why bother?, writes David Stapleton
Stress and anxiety have always been with us, but it’s generally agreed that modern life, (and in particular the effects of the pandemic and the ‘lockdown’ strategy) is having more of an effect on us. It can be difficult to relax and stay cheerful without access to our normal activities, and with reduced human contact.
I’ve been practicing meditation, tai-chi, and martial arts for around 25 years, and have always found mindfulness has made a real difference in managing stressful circumstances, focusing on important projects and enjoying life.
Definitions of mindfulness generally focus on awareness as a state ‘being conscious or aware of something’ or exercises used to maintain that awareness. Put simply, it’s the opposite of automatic pilot, where we’ll happily carry out an activity without really engaging with it. How many of us, particularly on the work commute, have driven to our destination and can’t remember much of the journey?
Mindfulness is different to ‘positive thinking’ and other self-help strategies, in that you’re not actively trying to be ‘positive’ or ‘happy’, but only to acknowledge where you are at the moment – without ‘drifting off’ elsewhere. It’s not a panacea, but it shows you how you can gain more control of your conscious mental processes. In itself, that’s is a gateway to improving how you relate to yourself and others.
Part of the major impact of mindfulness is its association with stress relief. Although stress manifests in different ways, the consistent and active practice of mindfulness has been shown by many studies to have a noticeable and positive impact on how people experience it. Awareness of what we do day-to-day helps us form better habits, and be more perceptive in general.
Often, we can spend time in the past, maybe with regret or anger, or in the future, where anxieties about what might come to pass can be difficult to shake. So how is it done? Firstly, silk robes, candles, incense, and flutes aren’t required! Mindfulness has become popular in the last 40 years partly because it focuses on core exercises without religious or ‘spiritual’ overtones.
Traditionally associated with meditation, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditative tradition, but most activities can be ‘mindful’ as long as we remain rooted in, and conscious of, what we’re doing. Mindfulness techniques are about setting good habits, encouraging attitudes such as letting go and gratitude.
Freemasons have always prized calmness, equanimity, and focus. Indeed, one could say that ritual and ceremony create and sustain mindfulness in their participants Whether you’re mindful in the lodge room, on the running track, or when you’re really focused on learning, mindfulness can help with direction.
Mindfulness classes, workshops or courses can be a great introduction to finding all of these benefits. Discover more and sign up for a free trial session (being run at 7pm on March 30th) at www.chillinstructor.com