Does Mindfulness Work?
Posted on September 3, 2015 by Robert Ringer
In this day and age of ISIS, police assassinations, criminals in public office, riots on demand, and the moral equalization of every conceivable kind of “lifestyle,” it’s no wonder that mindfulness has become an increasingly popular technique.
The practice of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, which is always a good sign. Moreover, Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman all subscribed to mindfulness, and when it comes to endorsements, you can’t do much better than that.
Oversimplified, mindfulness is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. Mindfulness is the only intentional activity where you aren’t trying to improve yourself or get anywhere. The only intent is to be aware of where you already are.
That’s why you should never look at mindfulness as a goal or destination. Goals are about the future. A destination is a place you want to reach. But when you’re mindful of the present, you’re already where you want to be, both mentally and physically.
There are two kinds of mindfulness. One is formal mindfulness, the practice of sustained attention on the body, breath, or other sensations. In other words, you consciously concentrate on, say, your breathing. You purposely try to stay focused on every inhalation and every exhalation.
Informal mindfulness, on the other hand, is the moment-by-moment attention to your life, which involves two components. The first is regulating your attention so it’s focused on an immediate experience. The second component is developing an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
To accomplish this, you have to consciously work to stabilize your mind, because the mind is inherently distractible. Without consciously controlling it, your mind will run wild with petty thoughts, worries, social pressures, anxiety, depression, and fears of rejection, disappointment, and financial failure. But perhaps worst of all is the horrid habit of overthinking. Overthinking creates stress, stifles action, and probably kills.
The key to mindfulness is to focus less on what’s going on in your mind rather than what’s going on around you. Mindfulness advocates like to refer to this as “be here, now.” It would be impossible to sum it up better than with these three words.
Thus, the essence of mindfulness is to think in terms of this moment and this day. After all, there’s no guarantee that there will be another moment or another day. Everything about the future is hypothetical, at best. That’s why “What if?” is the enemy of mindfulness. When you practice mindfulness, you put aside all “What ifs?” and focus on what is — right now, this second.
Like everything of value, mindfulness is not easy — especially at first. It’s an enormous challenge to suspend all thoughts of past, future, and present concerns. Also, part and parcel to this practice is not being nonjudgmental about such concerns. Easy to say, but very tough to do.
I find that the best way to accomplish this is to not categorize things in terms of good or bad. I try (but do not always succeed) to think of most things in terms of “they just are,” and leave it at that. When we judge something as “bad,” it’s presumptuous, because we usually have no idea what the final outcome will be. We’re simply assigning a negative label to it, a label which may prove to be incorrect down the road.
For example, why does death have to be a bad thing? Maybe it’s a good thing? Who really knows? The only thing we know for certain is that death has visited every person who has ever lived on this earth. No matter how much we belabor death, it just is.
It’s important to understand that mindfulness is not about repressing stressful thoughts. Repression doesn’t work, because repressed thoughts build even more stress under the surface. The best approach to stressful thoughts is to neither embrace them nor push them away. Just let them alone and focus on your life … in this moment … in this place … on this day.
At its worst, the mind is on autopilot, a condition with which I’ve had more than my share of my bouts. By autopilot, I mean that you’re “zoned out.” As an example, have you ever done something like finished your shower, then not being able to remember if you washed your hair? What happened was that you zoned out while washing your hair (assuming that you did, indeed, wash it), because you were absorbed with other thoughts.
This can happen with brushing your teeth, taking your vitamins, and any one of an infinite number of other things that are part of your normal routine. When you zone out, you aren’t present, which is why you aren’t able to recall if you’ve done any these things.
Perhaps an even bigger challenge is keeping stress-producing external forces at bay. In this regard, I am reminded of a late friend of mine, Vern, who was a mentor to me when I was in my early twenties. Vern owned a successful life-insurance agency and, though he was a very low-key guy, he was a master at finding unconventional ways to motivate his agents.
One of the many unique things I remember about Vern was how he handled his mail. I happened to be in his office one day when his secretary put a stack of new mail on his desk. He quickly scanned through the pile, then picked it up and put it in the middle drawer on the left side of his desk.
It was a deep drawer, and it was filled with unopened mail. I asked him why he kept all his mail unopened and in a desk drawer, and his answer was classic Vern: “If you open even a few pieces of mail a day and read it, you’re not only wasting valuable time, but a lot of the mail you read will stress you. What I find is that if I just throw it all in a drawer, over time 99.99 percent of it will take care of itself.”
Vern was the calmest, most peaceful guy I’ve ever known. Whatever it was he was doing, it clearly worked for him. His handling of his mail was a metaphor for his whole life. He believed that if you just give everything to the universe, the universe will take care of it. Putting his mail in his desk drawer was his way of giving it to the universe.
I didn’t give mindfulness much thought until a couple of years ago, because it sounded a bit hokey to me. But as I read up on it, I became more and more interested in it, and I concluded that it’s not so much that “the universe” solves your problems; it’s that you surrender your problems to the universe. Huge difference.
Why does this work? Because most problems aren’t really problems at all. We just make them so in our minds. As Mark Twain put once it, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” So when you give problems to the universe, you’re simply getting rid of the seeds that have the potential to sprout into problems. The universe is a big place, so it can deal with all the seeds you can send its way.
With all this in mind, the big question is: Are mindfulness adherents correct when they claim that it can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and add years to your life? And the not-so-big answer is: I don’t know. I’m not an expert at this. But common sense tells me that it sounds logical. So I’m in. Maybe not yet all in just yet, but in.
I’ll let you know in a few years how well it’s working out for me. In the meantime, you might want to read up on it. The Internet is saturated with material about mindfulness.
In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I have some thought-trash I have tp throw out to the universe. It’s pretty nice to have a 24-hour trash collection service at your disposal. Best of all, you have nothing to lose, because it’s free!
I find that there are two real good times that I get mindfulness cranking, when I am out on a ride on my motorcycle on a quiet road, and sitting around a campfire at night.
I have found I am more mindful after I shut off the alarm in the morning and then put in 10/12 hours a day working a job and being darn good at it and then coming home to work another 2 or 3 hours on my place.
Some don't ponder life, they live it. And when you live it, you make money. And when you live life, you don't become a burden on society. Keep pondering it…and the rest of us are going to have to pay you bills.
And that's getting a little old for some of us.
I was very happy to read this article today, Robert, where you are channeling your inner "Eckhart Tolle" – an individual I have much respect for. You are correct that mindfulness is a very important concept, and that it can be difficult to "achieve" since we are so programmed to be consumed with minutiae and the race consciousness is always leading us this way, even when we can shut out the media, politicians and other trivia that our daily contacts bring us. I am a meditator, and I find that helps, and I try to take periodic mini-breaks throughout the day to just focus on NOW – if even for only a minute or two. Werner Erhard and his EST trainings in the 1970s were all about "Be Here Now" (the Ram Dass mantra), but their methodology was a bit hokey to me. I found the late Wayne Dyer (appropriate that you wrote this just a few days after his passing) and Eckhart Tolle (along with Jon Zinn) to be much better teachers for me. I am by no means any master of mindfulness, but like you, I am committed to it, and I most assuredly do not sweat the small stuff as I did in my 20s and 30s (I am 65). Have a great day, as this article got my day off to a wonderful start, too!!
Bob Picha Timely remarks Robert. It is true that your mind has a mind of its own, and it seems that everything in our environment is asking for our attention. In reality, it is asking for our energy because, as Deepak says, energy flows where our attention goes. For me, lowering the energy level helps me to "Be Here Now". As a Type A,
my body has a high energy through-put, and being in a high volume, low intensity environment…staring at the surf on either coast…is my vehicle of choice for lowering my energy level.
Excellent blog, it was very interesting to read. I think you should read this book if you haven't already by Ekhart Tolle called the Power of Now. It's ALL about being in the Present Moment and the book is written brilliantly. I guarantee you love the writing and the book is amazing in how it brings you into the present as you read it. It is truly an astounding book.
My energy went straight into your lucid exposition of mindfulness. It brings the bibllical saying, "Be still and know that I am God" seamlessly up to date by reinterpreting it to, "Be still and know that I am Consciousness (energy?)"
I have read the Power of Now and agree it is a good technique to quieten the mind. However we need to be aware of dangers of other spirits that can invade this space during these moments. For christians it is important to focus our thoughts on His Word and so deepen our intimacy with Him. Buddhists would say you need to tap into their prayers and chants. That is a different spirit to the one that is in Christ.
Good article. A few parts made me laugh, tho. like the following excerpt:
"a lot of the mail you read will stress you. What I find is that if I just throw it all in a drawer, over time 99.99 percent of it will take care of itself.” ~ Vern
I'll try and remember Vern's advice the next time I receive a letter from the IRS. Yeah. Sounds good. I'll just toss it in a draw and let it "take care of itself".
"Life is just a stream I go a fishin in" ~ Thoreau
Maybe the media and the politicians need to practice mindfulness. If they did they would catch themselves lying. But then again, maybe not. 😉
Thank you! I needed that.
I agree with everything in your piece about mindfulness, until you got to the part about Vern. I was married to a guy who did the same thing with mail. Even better. He had several deep drawers stacked with mail, going back a few years. They were all letters from the IRS.
If Robert is being mindful, as he describes it, he won't read a single comment here. I get a little chuckle out of that for some reason.
I have to say that I don't find much to gain from contemplating my navel. On the other hand, going out into the wilderness and just soaking in nature is very healing. Above all, I find it very beneficial to contemplate God. For some of us, Buddhist practices are not compatible. And I should note that Werner Erhart, and the promoters of Transcendental Meditation, are not necessarily held in high regard by many people, including myself. I had an experience with TM when I was in college; I went to one of their lectures. I liked the woman who spoke, and asked if she would teach it to me. She asked my age, and since I was older than she was, she said she wasn't allowed to teach me. Even my urging and telling her it didn't matter, didn't change her mind. Maharishi had forbidden it, and that was that. So I said, "I'll consider studying TM when I can find an instructor who is willing to break the rules." My thinking was that if it was THAT stifling, I sure didn't want to be part of it.
Thinking about SOMETHING while clearing your mind may be necessary. Trying to empty your mind of thoughts as some do, opens a person up to evil influences. Be careful with it. It may not be what it seems.
The Buddhist concept I value most is NON-ATTACHMENT. So many people confuse the concept with DETACHMENT which it, Non-Attachment, is not. Have fun explaining that one, Mr. Ringer. And it IS fun to explain. AND yes to the commenter here… there was so much gobbledegook during the high time of the so called "New Age" Movement. I went through it in the mid-70s, and like one person above noted, Wayne Dyer was one of the best and most down-to-earth thinker-writer-teachers. Because of him, for example, I learned to say NO! and discontinued doing things I didn't really value or want to do, no more meeting the expectations of others. That's personal freedom!
Amen to that and then some!
Regarding paragraph 11… I disagree on at least one judgment! My negative judgment regarding the current and worst president of America EVER! The end of his "Administration" can't come soon enough for me and many others! But then… history is full of down-cycles I guess! Let us hope that this one does not become disastrous!
Another wonderful post. Buddhism is definitely helpful when it comes to understanding the concept of mindfulness. I find Christianity helpful as well, and Judaism's understanding of Yahweh also enlightening.
I do not "believe" GOD is knowable to or by human intellect. We humans are limited "knowers". But, "I do believe" that the word GOD has a referent, but it is so beyond mere human mind "to know". And that is not a put down of human mind. Human mind is is seemingly miraculous in itself! After graduating from our present incarnation, "I like to think" that on another "plane of being" we will have more opportunity "to know", to search, in general. I believe we are limited by our present physical condition. And yet "we cling"! Do we not? LOL For myself, I affirm God and constantly ask for the Guidance from Higher Power, since I like to believe that everyone's Higher Mind is co-incident with the "Mind of God". I left off "religion" for myself, but
I respect those who are on that level. Much better than the trouble-makers here on earth. Humans are NOT equal. I love discoursing with those who are my superiors. From those encounters, I learn.
O,LORD. I LOVE THAT. I ALSO AM WONDERING WHAT THE PARTING DESTRUCTION WILL BE AS THE OHOLE IS PREPARING TO GO HIS MERRY WAY. W/O A CARE AND A BIG STUPID SMIRK.
AS FOR "GRADUATING" (WHEN WE DIE) TO THE NEXT LEVEL, WHEN I LOOK AT THE FACE OF ONE WHO HAS "GRADUATED", I CAN'T HELP BUT THINK, HE (OR SHE) KNOWS THE SECRET.
Nice post, Phil. There would seem to be value in other so-called pagan beliefs (non-Christian). But of all concepts, ideas, counsel and direction only the Bible has it all.
The Golden Rule found at Matthew 7:12 is the finest human relations principle ever uttered. Other religions may have a variation of this but only the Bible tell us where we came from, why things are as they are now and what the eventual outcome will be. As well it reliably tells us what the future holds, Can any other sacred book, philosopher, writer or anyone else tell us those things? In this the Bible is supreme.
My two favorite adviser-writers of self help are Robert Ringer and Wayne Dyer (R.I.P), and this article makes me think they were working together on writing it.
Earlier I did not mention the Dyer book that freed me from "meeetng the expectations of other": PULLING YOUR OWN STRINGS by Wayne Dyer. No doubt a book that Mr. Ringer agrees with… LOOKING OUT FOR #1 etc. . Individualism is for those who have tried to learn to use their "God-given" intelligence! As long as… we keep open and continue to evaluate new incoming data… or some such terms. But, there can be no compromise with EVIL.
I think this may be called "living in the present". The past is gone, learn your lessons and move on. The future is not here, so why worry about something that may or may not happen – just plan as best you can, keep an open mind to change, and leave the worry in a lock box.
The best way to stabilize the mind (and this is nearly impossible for a thinking mind, too much thinking seems to be "the" problem), is to basically stop thinking one way or the other whether something is good or bad. This means to have no "opinion" on anything, just accept everything the way it is, and have faith everything and everyone is the way it was designed.
And how do we know something is good or bad? The thinking makes it so, so stop it! There can be nearly no way we can determine if something is good or bad until it has reached maturation. The story usually must be played out to determine the outcome. I will use an old Chinese Buddhist story to illustrate (paraphrased due to memory, lol ) :
A son was working on his house roof and fell off and broke his leg. The neighbors came by and said how "bad" this was as the summer was here and work needed to be done on the farm. But the son's father said that he didn't know if it was good or bad, he would have to wait for the outcome. The next day the militia came by and was drafting every able bodied boy into the army. But the boy had a broken leg and couldn't be drafted. The army went off to war and they were all killed. The father now thinks that it was "good" his son broke his leg as after it healed he still had his son.
I now no longer look at anything in the same way now, that on the surface may seem bad. As another quick example that happened to myself, I now take everything in stride and make no determination. I was going to go on a road trip and my car broke down the day before leaving. I now no longer get upset, I think – "who says this is bad, what if I went on the trip and got killed in a head on?" I now take these minor upsets with ease and make no judgement one way or the other.
It makes for a less stressful life, I no longer get angry, and I always remember – "I am still here!" as Morpheus shouted in the Matrix (my #1 movie of all time, but you need to watch it 50 times to get it all, well to get most of it). If you can figure out the Matrix, you can figure out anything, it is genius in action, but far to complicated for nearly everyone, and this includes me. This movie is the actual way the universe works – now if one could just harness it…
Bit to be said for this mindfulness, Robert. Many problems in life seem to be more in the mind of the individual than what likely happens to them. The problems don't materialise.
On the other hand, just putting every action off as Vern seems to have done by not reading his mail (probably no email back them either) seems irresponsible. There may well have been important matters relating to clients of his insurance agency which are mostly time-sensitive (I'm in that business myself and a lot of info. is time-sensitive).
As with most things, balance is needed. Some things, many things, can be left, but some do need attention. Getting that balance can be a challenge.
From the descriptions herein, mindfulness seems to be a type of meditation. Everything I've read about meditation indicates it is good for the soul, for peace of mind, for getting in touch with the subconscious. It also improves one's intuition and enhances problem solving.
The “School of Spirituality” was created in order to impart the universal teachings of meditation.
It takes its inspiration from the spiritual teachings of the great mystics and Masters from the different religious and philosophical traditions, which have endeavored to give humanity a practical message that leads to self knowledge, God knowledge and love for the whole creation.
How to open third eye
I have high hopes for Trump and Ben. and after Ben is seasoned, him for Prez after that. Assuming we have a world left since Ohole still has a year of destruction left. I will not bid him "fond" adieu… I will continue to CURSE him for as long as I live! Not a "spiritual" attitude, I know, but, that's my level. LOL