Health Newsletter for December: Mindfulness – What is it?
The concept of Mindfulness has been around for many years but it is becoming more well-known. For nearly four decades, Ellen Langer’s research on mindfulness has greatly influenced thinking across a range of fields, from behavioral economics to positive psychology. It reveals that by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on auto-pilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance.
What, exactly, is mindfulness? How do you define it?
According to Langer, Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement. And it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming. The mistake most people make is to assume it’s stressful and exhausting—all this thinking. But what’s stressful is all the mindless, negative evaluations we make and the worry that we’ll find problems and not be able to solve them.
Remember that stress is not a function of events; it’s a function of the view you take of events. You think a particular thing is going to happen and that when it does, it’s going to be awful. But prediction is an illusion. We can’t know what’s going to happen. So, for example, give yourself five reasons you won’t lose the job. Then think of five reasons why, if you did, it would be an advantage—new opportunities, more time with family, etc. Now you’ve gone from thinking it’s definitely going to happen to thinking maybe it will and even if it does, you’ll be OK.
Langer provides another example of viewing things in different, mindful ways. She was working with a nursing home years ago, and a nurse walked in, complaining that one of the residents didn’t want to go to the dining room. She wanted to stay in her room and eat peanut butter. Langer butted in and said, “What’s wrong with that?” Her answer was “What if everybody wants to do it?” Langer said, “Well, if everybody did it, you’d save a lot of money on food. But, more seriously, it would tell you something about how the food is being prepared or served. If it’s only one person occasionally, what’s the big deal? If it happens all the time, there’s an opportunity here.”
Being mindful allows you to consider endless possibilities by engaging in what is happening in that moment. For example, if children, employees or friends are given a chance to rewrite the rules of the game, it becomes clear that performance (or outcome) is only a reflection of one’s ability under certain circumstances. Langer states, “if they allowed three serves in tennis, I would be a much better player.” Engaging in the moment also results in better listening. You will understand, communicate and relate better to those around you by being mindful in your interactions with others.
Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that. So, if you make the moment matter, it all matters. You can be mindful or you can be mindless. You can win or you can lose. The worst case is to be mindless and lose. So when you’re doing anything, be mindful, notice new things, make it meaningful to you, and you and those around you will prosper.
The Basics of Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.
3. Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgements arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of each moment and for all the gifts of this day. Help me to see the gifts that each situation and person brings. Help me to see your face in each person I meet and to see your hand in all of creation. Amen.
Beth Ewing, RN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC
DO I NEED THIS PILL? - Understanding Pain and Prescription Drugs
Webinar. Thurs., Dec. 7, Noon to 1:00 p.m. EST
Whether acute or chronic, poor pain treatment is a contributing factor to today’s opioid crisis. Please join the HHS Partnership Center when we host David Thomas of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to present on a webinar designed especially for faith-based communities about the nature of pain, as well as new and healthy strategies for pain management. Increase your knowledge about how pain works, how opioids work for pain, and why these drugs are so addictive. Dr. Thomas will also talk about the influx of dangerous synthetics that are increasing the risk of overdose for youth and other vulnerable populations. Register at: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/4321772676574433282
Beth Ewing, RN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC serves as the Parish Nurse for both Abiding Christ and the Lutheran Saints in Ministry.