Editor’s Note: Agnes Herman is a nationally known writer and contributor to many publications. This is her first contribution to JewishSacredAging.com.
Mindfulness was originally conceived as a way to ease suffering and cultivate compassion. The February 3rd issue of Time has a comprehensive article by Kate Pickert on the subject. She notes that “we are in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness…a growing body of evidence suggests it has clear benefits…” What does that mean?
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) includes techniques that are intended to help practitioners quiet a busy mind, heighten awareness of the present moment resulting in less concentration on what happened earlier or what’s to come. According to the Internet “…research has found therapy based on mindfulness to be effective, particularly for reducing anxiety, depression and stress”. Our daily stress appears to get more complicated and burdensome each day, especially so for us who are growing older.
Despite the fact that mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, it is relevant to all religions. The concept is to focus one’s whole attention and awareness on the present. Easing suffering and motivating compassion are ideas relevant for all of us. We Jews who are dedicated to tikkun olam, humanity’s responsibility to heal (repair) the world, cannot do that until we heal (help) ourselves.
In prospect it is difficult to achieve mindfulness, to set aside worries, expectations and concentrate on the now, on the moment. As we age it becomes harder to live with daily anxiety. Our minds are have grown accustomed to worrying about the children, their future and the financing of that future. As we age and they grow, that future leaps to confront us. Our culture has taught us to strive to better ourselves, there is a constant longing for better, bigger, more beautiful. Mindfulness helps us to slow all that down, to be content. If we do indeed concentrate on the now and stop yearning for more we reduce anxiety, feel optimistic and even benefit our physical health.
I asked a friend who has a grandson in jail, “Do you think about him all the time?” “No”, she answered, “ I have learned to concentrate on today!” In the morning she plans her day, focusing on that, not allowing the negative to even enter her thoughts, she makes sure she sees friends and gets out and about, thus she battles her stress. It does not matter if angst is related to a chronic illness or a family crisis it impacts mind and body. Mindfulness challenges us to take responsibility for how we react to unpleasant circumstances. It helps us understand what is happening mentally and physically.
I recognize that I am responsible for my own welfare. When my husband died six years ago I chose between whining, feeling sorry for myself on the couch, or taking a grip on today. I chose to get moving. Somehow I understood I had to concentrate on today: we cannot change yesterday and tomorrow will happen no matter what.
Apparently I have been practicing mindfulness without any awareness that it is a practice that had its beginnings in ancient times. It is a new concept for Western medicine despite the fact that some doctors and scientists have been “exploring the use of mindfulness to help people achieve better health and cope with major illnesses for several decades.”
We do not necessarily have to go through formal training to begin, Mayo Clinic suggests do-able guidelines: paying attention, remove judgment, concentrate on breathing. Paying attention to the present moment, eliminate those things that are history or prophesy. Remove judgment suggests, look at the world, other people and self with appreciation rather than criticism. Breathing is a reliable way to bring us back to the moment. Pay attention to nostrils and tummy notice the changes in breathing with one’s change in feeling. Learn to meditate it will help our efforts to concentrate on now.
Find “Mindfulness” on the Internet. Mindfulness can result in more patience, acceptance, a non-judgmental attitude compassion for others and for self, reduce stress, an attitude adjustment. The experience of Time’s writer Kate Pickert when she took a class in “MBSR” had her less connected to her electronics and more eager to enjoy the world around her. Her writing includes steps to achieve mindfulness meditation and why wearing a watch unties one from reliance on the phone in our pockets, why taking a hike enables us to really enjoy the “now”. Mindfulness is the “science of finding focus” in the midst of our stress.