I am a firm believer in the value of practicing mindfulness in everyday life for mental, emotional and physical health, and know that many other people could benefits if they only understood more clearly what it is, and how it offers benefits.
Fortunately I stumbled upon The Mindful Manifesto, a new book by Dr. Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell, exploring the uses of mindfulness meditation for physical and mental health, addiction and emotional regulation, as well as areas such as decision-making in business and helping kids focus at school.
The Manifesto includes much more than this practical knowledge, as it delivers a message that meditation is breaking out from the hippie new-age tag thanks to the raft of good science showing how it operates and leads to significant health benefits.
Furthermore, the authors examine how encouraging governments and other powerful institutions to take a mindful approach could bring more health and happiness to our world.
Here is the interview I had with author Ed Halliwell about The Mindful Manifesto.
1. Your book explores a shift in the way mindfulness is viewed under a larger social umbrella. What is the value of mindfulness becoming a more well-known and common approach in the context of business and professional institutions?
Thanks to all the scientific evidence about the health benefits of mindfulness, it’s becoming more acceptable to practice meditation as part of looking after our health. However, it can, and is starting to, go further than this. We aren’t islands – we are most of us relating with other people a lot of the time, and mindfulness doesn’t only train us in developing an attentive, patient, and caring way of working with ourselves, but also in offering the same attention, patience and compassion to others.
So at work, for example, it means we can conduct our business skillfully, managing our projects and our relationships with colleagues and customers in ways that benefit both.
Mindful people are happier, healthier, kinder and more effective, and so mindful businesses and institutions, as collections of people trained in and working with in mindfulness, are also likely to be happier, healthier, kinder and more effective. If mindfulness training can enter into professional life, the benefits can spread a lot more widely – it will no longer be something that people do only in their private lives, as a personal interest.
We start to become not just mindful individuals in a society, but a mindful society, one that supports people to develop their awareness, rather than pulling them in the direction of being distracted, fragmented and stressed-out. That’s got to be a good thing.
2. What do you feel is the most exciting new research about the effectiveness and utility of mindfulness?
The neuroscience of mindfulness is fascinating, because it demonstrates – backed up by the clinical research – that we can train our brains in the direction of greater happiness. The old orthodoxy that mental habits cannot be changed is being challenged. For example, there’s the discovery that mindfulness practice shifts patterns of activity from the right prefrontal cortex (associated with depression, avoidant behavior, anxiety) and towards greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex (associated with being more upbeat, contented, and engaged with life).
That’s hugely encouraging and empowering, as it means we’re aren’t completely stuck with our old brain patterns, and our old habits. With mindfulness practice, we can train ourselves to be happier, just as we can train our bodies to be healthier with physical exercise.
3. The book has a chapter on mindfulness of feelings and points out how mindfulness can help with addictions. How can mindfulness help people more effectively deal with emotional pain and stress so they don’t turn to unhealthy coping strategies?
For most of us, the usual strategy for dealing with pain is to try to get rid of it, which is understandable, as it’s unpleasant. Unfortunately, while this works for some situations (if your hand’s in the fire, you want to be removing it very quickly), it doesn’t often work so well for emotional pain, which often doesn’t respond to being ‘fixed’ or ‘problem-solved’ or distracted from.
When we try to get rid of emotional pain in this way, we end up ruminating over and over about why we’re feeling unhappy in a bid to sort it out, or we try to cover over the feelings with addictive behavior, like over-eating or smoking.
These strategies become habits, and even though they don’t work very well, we get hooked on them. In mindfulness practice, we actually reverse the strategy, learning to come up close to and experience the unpleasant sensations, even to befriend them – as crazy as that may sound. And what people often find is that learning to befriend pain, emotional or even physical, can be the best way to deal with it, especially if there’s little we can do to make it go away.
Instead of fighting or pushing away our experience, which takes a lot of effort and can make us feel even more stressed, we practice being with the sensations, uncoupled from all the stories we usually tell ourselves about them. Curiously, even though it’s seems counter-intuitive, this often seems to make things a lot better. We’re strengthening healthy coping strategies, rather than unhealthy ones.
4. What simple tips can people start doing today to be more mindful in everyday life?
Probably the most helpful thing you can do is to allocate some time each day to develop a formal meditation practice. Mindfulness is like any other kind of skills training, if you want to develop it, you need to practice it. If you want to get good at tennis, you need to spend some time practicing your shots on the training court, preferably before you start playing matches.
Similarly, if you want to be more mindful in everyday life, it really helps to train in meditation, preferably working with an experienced teacher. Having said that, opportunities to be mindful are everywhere – each time we bring attention to our sensory experience in the present moment, we are training in mindfulness. Eating is a good one, as we all do it several times a day.
Is it possible for you to make a commitment to eating one meal a day with awareness – really paying attention to the sensations of touch, taste and smell as you savor your food, rather than wolfing it down or distracting from the experience by having the TV on? Or can you take a mindful walk each day, noticing your surroundings and how your body feels in your environment as you walk? Or even just bringing your attention in to your breath and following the flow of the breath in and out for a few minutes, once or twice a day? If you can train in mindfully paying attention on a regular basis, the easier you will find it to stay mindful when stressful situations arise, and the better chance you will have of managing them skillfully.
5. It is mentioned that mindfulness can “transform” the world. Please elaborate on this and the potential mindfulness has to improve peoples’ lives and society as a whole.
I can’t think of any situations where more mindfulness wouldn’t be helpful. Whether it’s working with a health issue, negotiating a difficult relationship, parenting a child, or making a business deal, knowing what’s actually going on in ourselves and the world around us gives us a better chance of relating with the situation wisely. And this can have a ripple effect – the more people train in mindfulness, the more the effect can spread not just in their own lives, but to the people they live, work and socialize with.
The more people see this effect in others, the more likely they are to be inspired to train in mindfulness themselves, and to spread the word and the practice. Over time, we might find that the effects of mindfulness – greater awareness, resilience, discernment, compassion – reach enough people that they start to be enjoyed as part of the mainstream of our social fabric.
This could become the norm, rather than the exception. It’s important to state, though, that this process starts with ourselves – we can’t and shouldn’t try to force mindfulness on the world as yet another externally imposed fix. That wouldn’t be in the gentle spirit of mindfulness, and it probably wouldn’t work, either.
Well there you have it. Ed offered us tons of information so I thank him for his generosity.
Hopefully you have a better understanding about the value mindfulness imparts in our everyday life, and I hope this expands your understanding of what mindfulness is and how it offers us benefits beyond the field of self-help and into a wider societal approach.
If you’re interested in more information you can purchase The Mindfulness Manifesto here.