I like to think of myself as a pretty balanced person, but I know that in my daily bid to ‘get things done’ I can easily fall victim to time, pushing past the present moment for that ever-elusive future one when everything’s just as it should be.
And yet I’m well aware of time’s transience, how it is precisely in the waiting or doing that we are, in fact, living – or, as Annie Dillard so aptly puts it: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
In her argument for ‘presence over productivity’ she eloquently elaborates: “What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” (The Writing Life).
This thread of existential thinking is something that has struck a chord with me. As something of a self-confessed Luddite, the plugged-in, superficially-seeming and instant gratification culture of today’s ‘trending’ world plagues my mind.
And I think that we can all admit that as a result of this, we’re failing to immerse ourselves fully into the moment (so intent are we on instantly ‘sharing’ it via selfies to a stack of strangers rather than consciously relish it in ‘Real-time’…)
This strange state of hyper-stimulation and attention span deficit affects us all, and an increasing number of experts are drawing correlations between the modern condition and surges in mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and dysfunction in all ages.
Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. But whatever the cause of our mental maladies may be – what is the remedy? Some find release by blowing off steam at the gym, others centre themselves with a stroll on the beach or weekend of escapism.
But there’s another, hugely powerful strategy currently garnering repute and support the world over – Mindfulness.
“The term mindfulness refers to a quality of awareness that includes that ability to pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally,” explains Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction).
Not so much a modern phenomenon as a modern movement, Mindfulness has long established roots as an ancient Buddhist practice that adopts a therapeutic meditative approach in a contemporary Healthcare setting in order to help combat everything from insomnia and eating disorders to chronic pain and cancer.
Included in the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines and fused with psychotherapy into Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), it merges eastern philosophy with western science to encourage greater wisdom, self-kindliness and the skills to negotiate the challenges presented by modern day.
Keen to detach from my own ‘over-thinking’ affliction (amongst others), I joined Mindfulness Cornwall for an orientation session to discover exactly what it is all about.
The Community Interest Company runs Mindfulness courses and Mindfulness-based therapy throughout the county in a range of forms, including extended 8-week courses, one-to-one sessions, and Mindfulness-based applications for schools and organisations.
Participants engage in a personal journey during tutor-led sessions and at home, learning how to effectively develop and maintain their mental wellbeing through a series of approaches and techniques designed to increase their awareness of the present. The idea is to let go of our thoughts and recognise negative thought and behavioural patterns for increased self-awareness and understanding.
During my brief stint in discussions with the group and practising some wonderfully relaxing ‘grounding’ techniques, I rediscovered my ability to simply sit still, clear my mind and focus on the breath.
In doing so I instantly felt calmer, more assured, present, and comforted by the collaborative group effort and heightened sense of consciousness that was palpable in the room.
Anything that achieves that in today’s clamorous world is definitely worth a try.