(By Ann Webster, PhD, from
How to Elicit the Relaxation Response,
MBMI, Harvard Medical School)
Did you ever open the refrigerator looking for something, but can’t remember what? Ever drive clear past your exit on the highway without noticing… or get introduced to someone and not remember his or her name? These are examples of mindlessness—so many things pass through our mind at one time that we lose our focus. This mindless state is the opposite of meditation, where we train our mind to pay attention to a single focus. When our single focus is on experiencing the moment—being fully present in any activity we’re performing—we are practicing mindfulness, a kind of meditation on daily life. People adept at being mindful seem to be efficient, joyful and skillfully living their lives.
Mindfulness is the practice of learning how to pay attention to what is occurring within our field of experience from moment to moment. It is an ancient practice particularly useful for people learning to elicit the relaxation response because it allows them to extend the benefits of relaxation into more areas of their daily lives. Mindfulness practice involves a combination of slowing down, doing one activity at a time and bringing full awareness to both outer activity and inner experience. It provides a potentially powerful antidote to the common causes of stress: time pressure, fragmentation, overload, distraction, agitation and worry.
Mindfulness can be directed toward sensations in the body. Observing physical sensations can heighten awareness and invite relaxation. We can also be mindful toward our emotions, exploring their impact on the body, their causes and their impermanence. We can even be mindful toward our own thinking processes; we can become aware of how conflicting thoughts affect our bodies.
Training the mind and body to focus at the beginning of each new activity develops sustained concentration which is a practical tool to counteract the mind’s tendency to become dull or distracted. Mindfulness is the ability to focus on only one thing, that which you are presently doing. This could be walking, dancing, cooking or any other focused activity. Being focused in the present moment frees you from future oriented focuses like worrying and past oriented focuses like regret and blame. It is an attitude of being aware and remaining present to what is happening without an attitude of grasping or pushing away.
Materials: a few M&Ms