As with many aspects of life, we can find ourselves comparing previous decisions, people, events, often all from our past and hoping we can be more comfortable in the future. We do this by altering and amending previous decisions. However the previous decisions were made with the best available information at the time ( including past reflections)..so what went wrong? The answer, nothing. We made a choice and sometimes it’s a good one and sometimes it’s not. However, when we are feeling vulnerable we can find ourselves being pulled back into our past to unpack and unpick those process’s, thinking we will learn valuable lessons. In reality we find ourselves like a vehicle in a wet muddy field, trying to get out by revving the engine but with bald tyres.
There is an old but wise phrase ‘ If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’
This methodology can work. If your value structure is strong, if you have worthy morals, if your sense of family, community or environment is a priority for you..but many of us aren’t that perfect or consistent.
Where it fails is when we become ‘mindless’ and drop back into habit and default, in other words our ‘autopilot’. In these positions we often arrive through fatigue, desperation or fear. We have lost our sense of groundedness and we are surprisingly confused as to why our old strategies just don’t seem to work.
At this point the pendulum of thinking can swing wildly into the future and anxiety fills our thoughts. We try desperately to outwit the future, playing a game of ‘what if’s’.
Again, as a species we wouldn’t have survived very long without a bit of forward planning. Back in the mists of time the complexity of our modern life didn’t exist and the priorities were about shelter, food and safety..anxiety had a practical role to play for survival.
We still have the same issues today but now they are multi layered and other aspects of our lives can sometimes eclipse simple needs. Today the pendulum swings forward with thoughts about personal judgements, material possessions, savings, healthcare, the environment, social media status etc.
In both the historic, ruminative stance and the future anxiety ridden one, we are neither grounded nor balanced in our thoughts, intentions or actions.
Mindfulness gives us that place to pause. A place to collect ourselves, to take the foot off the accelerator and the spinning wheels of our thinking.
In less than 5 minutes of mindful awareness our bodies are already adjusting. Our heart rate slows, our breathing deepens, our muscles relax, adrenalin reduces and so does the stress hormone cortisol. The autonomic nervous systems switches from the ‘Watch out!’ sympathetic system, to the ‘Relax, it’s ok’ parasympathetic system. The frontal lobes of the brain, primarily the amygdala increases the release of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins to the limbic region, changing our reactivity into a more balanced response, in effect we become more ‘reponse able’.
So as much as Mindfulness may have reached the top of its bell curve in the press, as a practice and a way of being, in my humble opinion, it is invaluable. The core centres for research in this country, in Exeter, Bangor and Oxford and those abroad, continue to explore and identify the many benefits of Mindfulness and the peer reviewed papers that emerge from our scientific community continue to show, this is no passing fad.
Mindfulness, with its 2500 year old legacy, is alive and thriving.
May you all be well.