To demystify mindfulness: that is the purpose of this post. Mindfulness is not some exotic practice that only a few enlightened individuals manage to do and in doing so save themselves from the miseries of life. It is not religion; it is not even spirituality. There is nothing mysterious or unattainable about it.
What I refer to as mindfulness here is the quality of being open and at ease while consciously paying attention to the present moment. There is an enormous body of knowledge and a great history attached to this. However, it is my belief that we can all, fully consciously, choose to practice it in our day to day, without necessarily devaluing its depth or, more importantly, turning it into yet another product that we consume in our quest for happiness.
Mindfulness is for everyone, and the capacity for mindfulness is inside everyone. There is a fascinating emerging area of research around this: mindfulness is a function of our brains. And the good news starts with simply knowing this! And knowing that we can choose to exercise this function, every day, and that by doing so, we slowly strengthen the neural circuitry in our brains that supports us to live a life of what I call ‘conscious quality’.
When we are directly experiencing the present moment, being curious about it and not interpreting it (in other words, not adding our own voice-over to it!), our bodies relax and our brains activate the circuits that gather “live data”, which is much richer than the data (or noise!) we are dealing with when we are being mindless. And by mindless I mean being stuck in stories, abstract concepts, the past, the future, and therefore usually experiencing – however subtle – a sense of threat, tension or stress in our system. Our perception deepens and expands when we are being mindful, and we notice much more of what is going on internally, externally, and with others. There are other well-publicised benefits of mindfulness apart from reduced stress levels, such as increased capacity for emotional self-regulation and sharper focus.
These positive outcomes are increasingly forming part of successful leadership programmes. But everyone will benefit from being able to function more optimally and in a more interconnected manner in our changing world. We practice making our brains more adaptive, more able to choose what is truly right for us, and we become less reactive to the world. We develop a deeper connection to our core.
So what is key here? It really boils down to being able to switch between the ‘story’ and what is happening now: thoughts, feelings, sensations… It is a practice. If you can take a small step back from your life situations, over and over, then you can notice where you are and switch your attention to the present moment. If this is important for you, then you will find yourself doing it more and more, until it becomes the way you live… There will come a day when you will notice how much less noise there is in your head! And how much more space there is for what truly matters to you. There will be more clarity and less drama. There will be so much more to living.
Coaching itself is a practice of mindfulness. During coaching conversations, ideally both client and coach find themselves in a state of mindfulness – and the coach’s skill and tone play a key part in creating this space and bringing the client to the present moment. This is the safe place we all look for when exploring ourselves – a soft, non-threatening, open place of curiosity. This is the place where insights happen and next steps come effortlessly – a ‘relaxed mind sees the solutions’.
This is, ultimately, where we find the compassion we need to continue believing in ourselves, in others, in life. It is where we renew our contract with the joy of living.