Mindfulness: what is it and is it good, or is it a load of bollocks?

Mindfulness definitely sounds like a load of bollocks.

It’s the sort of word that sounds like it was made up by an American women’s magazine columnist in an article about how she went to find herself at a yoga retreat up a mountain in Goa.

Surprisingly, this is not the case. The word mindfulness was actually coined in 1910 by a scholar named Thomas Rhys Davids who, like me, had a Welsh dad, and also, unlike me, was known for publishing an English translation of a Buddhist sacred text called ‘The Questions of Milinda’.

This sacred text outlined the five ‘spiritual faculties’ needed to lead a good life. They were:

  • faith
  • vigour
  • concentration
  • wisdom

and of course:

  • mindfulness, translated from the  Pāli language word: sati.

Apparently the meaning of sati has been heavily debated, but basically means something like ‘hold in mind’, or ‘remember’.

Today mindfulness is a very widely-used term to describe a focused awareness of one’s present state. The idea is that by focusing on the things immediately around us, and not on worrying about what’s happened or going to happen, we can help reduce our stress levels.

At work this week we were given mindfulness training. Bollocks or not, it’s my personal opinion that if your company is willing to let you take an hour and a half away from work to learn how to cope better with life, then you’re pretty darn lucky. We’re only 185 years away from child labour and workhouses, after all. Some organisations don’t even provide free tea (what an injustice).

The session was actually really interesting and well presented. I ruined it a bit during the meditation when I regressed to primary school age and descended into that horrible shoulder-shaking cry-laughter reserved for situations such as exams, two-minute silences and group meditation with work colleagues.

What did I learn from the mindfulness training?

I learnt that mindfulness may sound like a lot of bollocks, but it is in fact a pretty simple thing, and something I’ve been doing all my life without meaning to.

It turns out I am actually quite a naturally mindful person, sometimes. There have been times, usually early in the morning, when I’ve been walking up on the cliffs above Eastbourne gazing out to sea watching the sun rise over the waves, where I’ve had a little cry about how beautiful nature is and how lucky I am to be alive. Some would call this pathetic. I call it mindfulness (well now I do).

I am also quite a sensitive person, physically. I love being stroked. Sometimes, when I’m sitting outside, I let ants crawl over me because it feels nice. I am also an epicurean (I learnt this word from an article about Nigella Lawson. For those who don’t know, an epicurean is someone who is devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine food and drink.). I suspect that I am a super-taster, mainly because my enthusiastic reaction to tasty food always seems to unnerve other people.

However, there are other times when I am not at all mindful, but is this really such a bad thing?

Is mindfulness always good?

To what extent is mindfulness a good thing? What if you’re strapped to a spiky chair having your toenails pliered off? Is it really healthy to be focusing on all five of your senses at such a time? Would’t it be better to, say, focus on a happy childhood memory, such as frolicking through a flowery meadow, or eating a Twix?

I often go for a walk to mull things over, such as the story I’ve been trying and failing to write my entire adult life. I often return home feeling reinvigorated and inspired to write more. That’s not mindfulness because I hardly know where I’m walking when I’m in that state. But it’s productive.

I suppose mindfulness is a good thing to practice in our busy, technology obsessed, dying society. I know a lot of people get caught up in the negative things in their life and forget to look around them and appreciate what they have. I suppose even if you’re strapped to a spiky chair having your toenails pliered off, you could always focus on the fact that you’re still alive, and who needs toenails anyway?

All in all, I’d say it can’t hurt to have a go at being mindful once in a while. Make yourself go out one day, take a walk through some countryside and look at the things around you, and realise that it’s very important that your body exists in that space at that time, because the truth is, it will never happen again.  But don’t think about the fact that you’re going to die – that is the opposite of mindfulness, I think.

2 Replies to “Mindfulness: what is it and is it good, or is it a load of bollocks?”

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