Being There


I have found an article that I had to add to our discussions. It’s been a long time since I felt the urge to write anything, but the NYTimes pricked my interest once again. In an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Review section I read an article that brings another perspective to the posts we’ve had about Mindfulness and Happiness.

Is happiness achieved through being in the moment or through dreaming and letting our imaginations transport us to places filled with pleasant thoughts and memories? Even though I have never tried the practice of Mindfulness myself, I can look at this situation from both sides. If we lose the moment, we can never get it back, and even if the moment involves washing dishes, as the writer of the piece does, there’s a certain Zen sense about the act. On the other hand, allowing one’s mind to wander to places that are filled with cheerful memories or scenes is certainly one way the mind can get us through a mundane day, or even a terrible day.

It’s hard to argue with the article’s declaration that: “On the face of it, our lives are often much more fulfilling lived outside the present than in it. As anyone who has ever maintained that they will one day lose 10 pounds or learn Spanish or find the matching lids for the Tupperware will know, we often anticipate our futures with more blind optimism than the reality is likely to warrant.

Surely one of the most magnificent feats of the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok, or in Don Draper’s bed…” Our lives would definitely be a lot less joyful if we weren’t able to fantasize.

I understand that Mindfulness Therapy does not preclude the ability to use our imaginations, and it’s important to remember that the idea of applying it is usually accompanied by a need to find a treatment for troubling and intrusive thoughts. Wikipedia, that somewhat suspect but relatively reliable source states: “MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) functions on the theory that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return to automatic cognitive processes that can trigger a depressive episode. The goal of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes and teach the participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, and instead accepting and observing them without judgment.” We aren’t talking about the day to day humdrum of life; mindfulness is a way to help people in distress.

In looking back on a previous post about Mindfulness published on 12/17/2014 and titled “A Look at Mindfulness,” I was reminded that Santa referenced an article she found on Huffington Post. In that article they state: “Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.”

The author of the op-ed in the recent NYTimes is applying her skeptical view to her daily activities rather than to any serious psychological conditions. She may have a point in relation to the overuse of Mindfulness in our quotidian lives, but when it comes to dealing with the debilitating symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain, we might challenge her doubts.

Nevertheless, a bit of cynicism is acceptable. Anything, or any therapy, that becomes too embedded in our daily lives deserves to be questioned to some degree. Every protocol has its day, and its value, but we know nothing works for everyone. Can we really expect to see Martin Ellingham engaged in periods of Mindfulness in this show? What we tend to get in Doc Martin in terms of therapy are snippets of honest to goodness hints of techniques that could work, but they are truncated by improper execution. We cannot anticipate more than that.

In closing I think it’s fun to note that one of the memorable quotes from the movie of the same title as this post is “Life is a State of Mind.” The main character of the movie is a man who lives totally in the present while those all around him project all sorts of things onto him. His state of mind is entirely different from everyone else’s and he appears happy while they are wrestling with all sorts of decisions. I’m not arguing that he’s in a state of Mindfulness, yet being in the present can have its limitations.

Originally posted 2016-11-30 22:12:12.

8 thoughts on “Being There

  1. Abby

    Karen, it’s interesting that I had heard about this article on the radio a couple of hours before I read your post. I agree that many people have the tendency to go overboard with things they become interested in, and perhaps that has been happening with mindfulness.

    To me, the point of mindfulness is to minimize living on autopilot (unconsciously) so that we respond to things consciously. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of our internal reactions so that our external reactions become a product of our conscious mind. When we live unconsciously (reactively) we have no free will. Mindfulness allows us to live consciously and restores free will.

    That said, however, mindfulness doesn’t preclude daydreaming. This stream of consciousness activity is not only fun and relaxing, but it is also a time when the mind roams free and becomes creative.

    So, to me mindfulness and daydreaming are two different ways of using the mind and are both quite valuable.

  2. Post author

    That is funny Abby. I consider your comment that Mindfulness restores free will a key to all of this. What Mindfulness attempts to do, then, is provide some sense of control over one’s thoughts and reactions to those thoughts. Thank you for reconfirming that daydreaming is another valuable way of using our minds. I think that is where this writer went astray. No one is telling her not to let her mind take her to places where she can enjoy pleasant reflections. What Mindfulness practitioners are doing, or so it seems to me, is keeping their troubling thoughts from making them anxious or depressed by trying to be neutral to them. I hope I’m getting that right.

  3. Abby

    Well, examining troubling thoughts, which, by the way, are frequently automatic, is one of the benefits of mindfulness. But, it also allows us to make better decisions because it engages the higher level thinking of our prefrontal cortex. So, mindfulness benefits all areas of our lives and doesn’t just minimize depression and anxiety.

    Regarding thoughts, everything we experience is filtered through the lenses of our temperament, personality, and past experience. What is left after all that filtering becomes our perception of the experience. Because of this filtering, how we perceive something, i.e. the meaning we give it, is not actual reality, even though it feels like it is. One way that mindfulness can help with this is to first notice how we have perceived something and then to come up with alternative interpretations of that situation. Thinking of other possible ways of looking at the situation weakens the certainty of our initial interpretation, which is good if that interpretation was unhelpful.

    Mindfulness, or awareness, if you will, is the key to change, because you can’t change something you don’t first notice.

  4. Post author

    Your explanation highlights that perception is greater than reality. Restraining ourselves from jumping to conclusions without enough reflection is always a good idea. Your final sentence goes to the heart of the issue of change that we’ve spent so much time talking about. Thank you.

  5. Linda D.

    I enjoyed this discussion very much Karen and Abby! I think mindfulness is so valuable because it is one way to slow our thinking and treats us to something we’ve lost in the hectic, media and social media world we now live in. I notice how little we take in, rather like staring at a Moneris machine we’ve just stuck our credit card in. I try hard to look at and interact with the cashier standing there rather than “listening” to what the machine is telling me. I like Abby’s comment about day dreaming too. We ARE using our mind while thinking about pleasant things or fantasizing. “Mindfulness” might be an overused “buzz word”, (like the word “buzz word”!), but surely, whatever we call it, being in the moment is good for our souls. Thanks for sharing this article Karen and for your comments Karen and Abby!

  6. Linda D.

    I enjoyed this topic and the discussion between you Karen, and Abby. I really believe that we have lost our ability to be “in the moment” because of the high-tech, media and social media era where we are multi-tasking and spinning through life like whirling dervishes. I (badly) try to be mindful but it truly goes against my nature and is difficult, to say the least. I liked what Abby said about exercising our minds through day dreaming and fantasizing. Of course, we ARE thinking and using our brains when we do it! When we go through our day to day activities we have forgotten how to slow down and focus on just one thing at a time. Though “mindfulness” is a fairly new “buzz word” (just like the word “buzz word!), it pays to practice it. Who has not stood in the check out line, mezmorized by the Moneris machine, without even noticing the clerk standing right there? I try hard to look up and interact with the person while waiting for that stupid machine to give me my orders! We will lose our abilities to be human if we succumb to staring at phones and machines to do our day to day tasks.

  7. Post author

    Thanks for writing Linda. I’m sorry I didn’t notice your comment until tonight. I try to check fairly often, but miss some days. Mindfulness may be a buzz word, but also it is a valuable method for handling difficult problems without lengthy therapy, or at least I think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

    It’s good to know you’re continuing to read this blog. Maybe we’all have more to talk about soon.

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