The COVID-19 pandemic has created chaos all around, but are your thoughts creating additional chaos within you? Many of us have become trapped in our thoughts, feelings and body sensations and we’ve lost connection with the inner calm, stillness and happiness that reside always in our core being. We’re clinging to the thought that external solutions will put an end to the chaos when – if we were to befriend and calm our mind – we have everything we need right now to restore equanimity and balance within us.
Supporting, strengthening and sustaining our mental wellbeing, particularly in these challenging times, is as important as focusing on our physical wellbeing. Our bodies and minds are connected: we need to attend to both to enjoy sustainable health and happiness.
How do we calm and befriend our mind? How do we disentangle ourselves from the constant chattering, destructive thoughts and wild fantasies? As Swami Muktananda shares, “The mind can be a source of great wisdom and joy. Its power is awesome. On the other hand, your mind can be your worst enemy.” Friend or foe? The choice is up to you.
To develop a sound relationship with your mind, it’s important to commit to practices to support it. One of the best practices to protect against mindlessness is mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental state of consciousness achieved when we focus on the present moment without distraction. We observe and accept our thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviour without judgement. We tune into what we’re sensing in the now rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Inspired by and adapted from traditional Buddhist teachings Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced mindfulness to the US where it is now firmly grounded in Western science. The practice of Mindfulness is equally effective for children, adults, parents, professionals and the elderly, and evidence based research shows it to calm the stressed-out mind.
Why practice mindfulness? Five key benefits.
Even before the pandemic, everyone spoke of stress and overwhelm. Our modern lifestyles, 24/7 connectivity, Hong’s Kong work ethic, the high cost of living and more place huge demands on people. The pandemic has taken stress levels to an all-new high.
When negative thoughts and feelings continuously take over, our stressed nervous system is in a constant sympathetic state of ‘fight or flight’. Our bodies prepares themselves for danger and produce an over-abundance of three major stress hormones – cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. In excess, these are harmful to the body and – at a time when immunity is even more important – they can weaken our immune systems. In fact, studies of psychoneuroloimmunology (the interaction between the mind, nervous system and immune system) confirm that what we think and feel, and the stress caused lowers immunity and can make us sick.
Mindfulness offers a proven antidote to stress. It releases ‘happy’ chemicals like serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Your parasympathetic nervous system is activated and your body rests and recuperates. This helps to lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, secrete digestive juices, release tissue building hormones and relax any tensions around pain. Your body can recreate and heal.
When we are able to observe and quiet our distracted minds, we drop into the space in which we cradle our contracted self-identity – our ego self – and we connect with the expansive No-Thingness that underlies all manifestation. By opening and expanding as we do in meditation, we begin to feel connected to ‘all that is’. We no longer feel fearful, anxious or alone. Simply observing the breath and allowing it to lead us from our head to our heart can give us this powerful experience.
Creativity and clarity
When the constant chattering, the inner critic and the conflicting arguments subside, there is clarity. In the stillness and silence, we can see the way ahead. Fresh insights, creativity, and ideas have the space to grow and flourish: your ‘soul’ can speak and be heard.
Mindfulness can give us access to true happiness – that state of bliss, calm, contentment that is both a huge gift and our birth right. When we can observe our thoughts, feelings and sensations like clouds moving across the sky, without becoming attached or entangled in them, we are able to burst through the cloud cover and enter the forever-blue-sky above and beyond. This is bliss.
Too often the distractions around and within us can become so compelling we lose connection with ourselves and those around us. We barely notice what is happening: work becomes workaholism; we get hooked on exercise endorphins; we blame others for our feelings of anger, fear or grief; we defend co-dependent relationships; we spend hours on our phones and computers/screens, and more.
Through Mindfulness not only do we connect with ourselves but, in the No-Thingness, we connect deeply with others, with our shared humanity, with feelings of love, empathy and compassion. Mindfulness rewires the brain. It thickens the part of the brain that is empathic and compassionate. We experience this in our heart centre – the centre of our being – where inner strength and serenity are cultivated. It spreads throughout the body and energetically influences those around us.
“Go into your heart. You’ll see clearly from there. That’s your centre. That’s the part of you that is free to observe, but not engage with, your thoughts.”
In our everyday lives, there are many different activities that we perform mindlessly. We can consciously choose to apply mindfulness to live healthier, happier lives. Through Mindful eating, Mindful walking, Mindful speaking, Mindful listening, Mindful showering, Mindful breathing, Mindful meditation and more.
At IMI, we bring the benefits of mindfulness to our community. We are committed to doing our part to help you find equanimity and balance within yourself, now and always. Our Monday Mindfulness sessions led by experienced practitioners are free to all and currently available online. We welcome you to join us.