The term ‘mindfulness’ is now tossed around in nearly every household and workplace in the West. With ever-growing popularity over the last decade and with the release of smartphone apps like Headspace everybody seems to think it is important to become more mindful.
Personally, I don’t like the term. It implies that the mind takes precedence over the body, which seems to contradict the aims of the movement itself. I believe the mindfulness drive had an original good cause – to help people realize that living in the present helps us reduce stress and live more simply. Yet, over the years ‘mindfulness’ has been co-opted by the corporate world to increase their employees’ performance. It has also been commercialized by some elements of the wellbeing industries; dumbed down from its roots in meditation and then the term stamped across all sorts of branding to earn an extra buck.
In my view, the problem with ‘mindfulness’ is its preference for the mind; and the mind is the whole problem right?! Isn’t it the mind that pushes you around all day long? Isn’t it the mind that makes you jump from task to task or makes up excuses for why you can’t get things done?
If we really want to make a change we have to acknowledge the body. The body and the mind have a symbiotic relationship. You probably know this already though your own lived experience but dis-ease in the mind means dis-ease in the body and vice versa.
As we swing from state to state in our daily existence, from defensiveness to anger to rage to panic to anxiety to hyperactivity to depression to dissociation to confusion to fatigue and exhaustion, the body and the mind go through it together. So the aim of living in the present moment and why it is good for us is that when we are present, we bring the mind and the body into the same place at the same time.
We stop fighting ourselves.
When we bring our body and our mind into the same place at the same time we allow ourselves to FEEL. Alan Fogel (2009) has coined a term that I really like called ‘embodied self-awareness’. Quite simply it is defined as “feeling alive in the present moment”. The great thing about it is you don’t need to use thought or effort to experience a state of embodied self-awareness. It just comes over us in a spontaneous way.
I like this because it highlights our body’s importance through a focus on feeling – something the mind works hard to “shut off” if we encounter situations or emotions that the mind has previously labeled as unpleasant. In embodied self-awareness all we have to do is see what’s there, just very simply look at what is in the moment. If it is anger, so what? If it is sadness then, it is sadness. If you’re living in the present then you will see that these moments quickly shift. My yoga teacher Norman Blair likes to say, “Shift happens” and it’s true.
Our unhappiness and our difficulty and our fear around this arises because we all have had experiences where we get stuck. We get stuck feeling angry or defensive or anxious or depressed or confused or exhausted. The reason why we get stuck in these states is because our poor nervous systems sometimes struggle to regulate themselves between fight, flight or freeze.
If we can meet ourselves, and be with what we are feeling in each moment and be okay with what we are feeling, then healing from this constant fighting with ourselves can take place. We can then with practice, feel ourselves in embodied self-awareness and unlock our tendencies of “stuck-ness” and therefore start feeling more alive and less afraid.
Alan Fogel gives an example of how healthy it is to become comfortable with our whole range of emotional experiences (even the ones that our minds have labeled as ‘negative’):
When your sad emotion is your enemy…you react to it with distance and you are like, “I don’t want to cry,…I want to get away from it…: but if you make friends with your emotions, the you are like, “Crying is okay.” … It just has this really remarkable effect, in the sense that, you know, you are not running away from it. You are not angry at yourself for doing it. You are not trying to hold back because that is who you are at the moment… I am happy to be with the crying cause that’s what I need to do right now. (Levitt, Butler & Hill 2006:321 in Fogel 2009:114)
Making a change in accepting who you are in each and every moment may feel an impossible task. Yet, it is like tackling anything that feels big…chipping away at it piece by piece or to quote Lao Tzu (in Haines 2016), “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Blair, N. (2017). Brightening Our Inner Skies: Yin and Yoga. London: MicMac Margins
Brach, T. (2003). Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame Within Us. USA: Random House
Fogel, A. (2009). Body Sense: The Science and Practice of Embodied Self-Awareness. New York: Norton & Co.
Haines, S. (2016). Trauma is Really Strange. London: Singing Dragon