“I feel like my mind is not my own” Debbie told me, “I keep imagining that my boss will criticise my latest project and my performance review is next week.” Frustrated, she looked at me. “Can you help?”
Mindfulness is a psychological method for bringing yourself into the present moment borrowed from Eastern meditation methds. In a 2008 review, Jeffrey Greeson found that people who practice mindfulness regularly are less emotionally distressed, experience more positive states of mind, and have a better quality of life.
Two characteristics of human minds that make in difficult to live in the moment are worth highlighting:
1) Our minds have an incredible ability to wander without our awareness – they are seldom in the moment.
Anyone who has tried watching their mind for even a couple of minutes, notices how quickly our minds move from topic to topic, like monkeys swinging from tree to tree. This wouldn’t be a problem if our minds swung only to positive topics.
However research by world leading academics since 2000 including Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn has found an important part of preventing relapse of depression is the ability to notice where your mind goes.
2) Our minds often have a desire to reject the present moment especially if it is unpleasant, in favour of a more appealing past or future moment. It’s as if magically wishing the moment away or denying it will result in somehow getting what we want. This is akin to ignoring the knocking visitor at your door when you both know you’re home.
How do you learn to be in control of your mind instead of letting your mind be in control of you? Learning to control where you put your attention and how long you put it there offers a way of freeing yourself from automatic and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding.
To learn how to do this you could
- get books out from the library about mindfulness (an example would be “The mindful way through depression” or “Where-ever you go, there you are” by the authors above)
- head down to the local Buddhist or community centre and learn to meditate
- enroll in a mindfulness class in your city
- go to a psychologist experienced in mindfulness
Mindfulness courses highlight that by living fully in the moment, we become more willing and open to experience all emotion and thinking patterns, not just the positive aspects of life. This gives us an increased ability to get our full moments worth from our experiences.