Mindfulness meditation has gained a great deal of popularity in recent years due to extensive research and NHS clinical trials. These trials have spawned mainstream headlines such as “Mindfulness Twice as Effective for Depression as Drugs”. However, for many people it is still wreathed in mystery due to its roots in Buddhism. For some, the mention of the word “Meditation” can conjure images of incense and orange robes, chanting and deities. However, Mindfulness is a very simple antidote to the stresses that we experience every day and which can lead to depression, anxiety and a basic sense of disconnectedness.
We spend most of the time either lost in planning for the future or ruminating about the past. Consider the last time you watched a beautiful sunset; chances are that you were aware of the beautiful pinks and oranges and reds and blues of that magnificent sight for only a few seconds before you began to think about the last time you saw a sunset, or the fact that it’s getting late and you should be getting home, or planning the evening’s meal, or wondering whether you need to get any papers together for tomorrow’s meeting.
This is the way the human mind works – in order to survive we had to plan for tomorrow and use past experiences in order to learn. That was a wonderful strategy for the days when we lived as hunter-gatherers when food was scarce and we were constantly at risk of being mauled by wild animals. Nowadays, however, our memories of the past are more likely to bring around feelings of regret and our endless planning engenders stressful “what ifs” and anticipatory anxiety.
Mindfulness encourages us to live in the present moment; it offers us a space to focus on what is happening now and gently encourages us to have an awareness of our ruminations, worries and planning without having to attach to them and become involved.
There are some great books about Mindfulness. The Mindful Way through Depression is by some of the UK’s major proponents of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, based at Oxford University.
Mindfulness: How to Live Well by Paying Attention (Ed Halliwell) is one of the best “how-to” books I have read on this subject. It gives really clear directions and some very interesting asides and case studies about how introducing Mindfulness can help with the stress, depression and anxiety to which we are all exposed.
Into the Heart of Mindfulness (Ed Halliwell) is a next-step from Ed’s previous book. It gives a deeper insight into his own struggles with depression and anxiety and details his personal journey to recovery using Mindfulness.