What is Mindfulness? Psychologist Mark Williams Explains

“Mindfulness is a form of awareness, really, so we’re all aware sometimes that just as you’re wonderful description of getting up in the morning and as you were driving to work with all these things going through your head, we also know that sometimes we can naturally switch that off sometimes if we take the time to take a walk with a youngster, you know, three or four-year-old, and they’re going very slowly along the road and they’re looking at things.” – Mark Williams

Ancient rocksIn his book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World,  Mark William, a clinical psychologist at Oxford explains the basis of mindfulness. Basically, it’s stopping in real-time to focus and actually pay attention to what’s happening right in front of us. Most of the time we’re only partly “dialed in” to daily experience. Mindfulness makes one stop, consider, absorb a moment or moments; to drink them in and internalize the experience.
It’s reinforced through meditation of all varieties, but it can be practiced–should be practiced–throughout the day. Feel pulled toward a negative thought or trigger by someone who annoys–perhaps an old habit of getting angry?–stop yourself there and then. Consider what’s happening and why, in real time, with your emotions. What is really upsetting you? And how can you ratchet it down? Williams explains:

Mark Williams

Mark Williams, Mindfulness author, Oxford psychologist

There’s no doubt that we have always lots of new challenges. Now, whether cell phones and emails and stuff, which, of course, most of us find get us down from time to time, whether that’s something which is a passing phase in terms of perhaps the new generation coming up will learn how to cope with that better than we who’ve been around a while without it and then find it very overwhelming.

But certainly the 24 hour, seven days a week connectivity, as my colleague Jon Kabat-Zinn of the UMass Medical Center has pointed out, that sense of connectivity means that we have to take special measures to know how to slow down and how to take a brain break, if you like.

most of us find that our attention is often hijacked by our current concerns so our attention just wanders all over the place and it’s very difficult to focus. So one of the first things you learn in mindfulness meditation is how to just settle the mind, how to focus, not to clear the mind. So it’s not the idea that you try to switch off all these thoughts going through, but that you see them passing through the mind like clouds in the sky.And that already gives you a greater sense of balance and control in your life. And the reason why it’s relevant for everybody and not just people who get depressed is because both getting caught up in the constant spin of rushing around in a frantic world needs some addressing for many, many of us, most of us indeed. But also, we find that exactly the same strategies, the same skills we find in our research actually reduces the risk of depression.

A fast mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness decreases depression “recidivism” and has proven to actually help reduce the risk of depression. Three main ways to do a simple mindfulness exercise.

1. Observation. Notice thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations in the body.

2. Gather attention and focus on the breath. Focus on the abdomen–the rising and falling of the in and outbreath.

3. Expand attention to the body as a whole. From the surface of the skin to the entire body. Allow the sensations of the body to be as they are–as if you’re coming home to the body. Take in the feelings of the body.

Listen to the Interview. Excellent explanation of the constant “amygdala excitement” and how our cultural life helps keep it active–mindfulness undermines, and mitigates this. Listen to Williams on NPR here or just click to listen below:

Yours in mental hygiene,

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