“When did you last take any time to do nothing – just ten minutes, undisturbed?”
So, that’s no emailing, texting, no internet, no T.V., no chatting, no eating, no reading, not even sitting there reminiscing about the past or planning for the future. Simply doing nothing.”
-- Andy Puddicome in his Ted Talk, All It Takes is Ten Mindful Minutes
Andy is talking about the benefits that arise from the practice of mindfully observing our own thoughts without holding on to them or being carried away by them, for just 10 minutes a day. Our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time, Andy goes on to say, and cultivating mindfulness helps us enjoy the present moment and become happier.
The idea of mindfulness is expressed well in a story set in the time when the British had colonized India. The setting is a golf course in Calcutta that the British had designed for their recreation. Unfortunately for them this golf course had a lot of monkeys around it who also liked to play golf. The monkeys disrupted the game by chasing the golf balls hit by the golfers, tossing them around the golf course and generally creating chaos. The British tried to put up fences around the fairway to keep the monkeys out. The monkeys simply climbed the fences. They tried to lure the monkeys away by giving them bananas, but other monkey relatives simply joined in to share the bananas. Finally, the British gave up trying to control the monkeys and established a new rule for this golf course: The golfers on this particular course had to play the ball wherever the monkey dropped it.
These golfers had the right idea. By consciously choosing to respond where the monkey dropped the ball, instead of reacting to the monkey behavior and getting upset by it, they were able to continue enjoying their game of golf. Mindfulness is being in a state of relaxed but focused awareness of the present moment. It involves a non-judgmental attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance. It allows the possibility of choosing a different response in that pause between action and reaction.
Once thought to be the realm of monks and priests, mindfulness has entered the mainstream and it’s here to stay for some very good reasons. The health benefits of meditation (a way of cultivating mindfulness) are well documented. Benefits include everything from lowering the body’s stress response to reducing blood pressure to increasing gray matter in areas of the brain involved in learning, memory and emotion regulation. The goal is meditation is not to be rid of thoughts, which is not possible, but to simply take an observer stance in relation to the thoughts that arise in our minds. Anxiety, depression, anger and inattention can all be reduced as we practice observing our thoughts. And all it takes is - ten mindful minutes. Really. You can try this at home with the instructions below.
Sit on a chair or on a cushion placed on the floor in a position that you can comfortably maintain for ten minutes. Pick any time of day to practice. Try to practice at the same time/s every day. Start by practicing 5-10 minutes. Allow your thoughts to flow and simply observe the flow of thought. Do not attempt to stop your thoughts from flowing, nor to direct them toward anything specific. When you find yourself focusing on your thoughts, gently move your mind toward your breath instead. “See” your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Repeat the process as other thoughts arise. Enjoy the sense of calmness that follows.
Smita Nagpal, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist and Director of Programs Development at Still Waters Counseling. She has been practicing the art of counseling for over 15 years. In addition to offering mindfulness-based therapy, she offers workshops on mindfulness and has been facilitating a meditation group for over 4 years. She can be reached at (734) 944-3446 or [email protected].