Mindfulness. We seem to be running into the term frequently these days. Interesting, because this idea is thousands of years old.
In my work and in my life, the most powerful tool I use is mindfulness. I have been interested in observing and understanding people for as long as I can remember, and along with neuroscience I have studied philosophy, psychology, and theology, searching for clues to our human nature, our human predicament, our human suffering, and how best to help people to heal and to grow and to be happy.
And of course, my own human predicament has both motivated me and instructed me. And I found my way to Buddhist psychology, which is both ancient and strikingly relevant to the challenges of our modern, high-tech society, and strikingly consistent with the insights of neuroscience.
Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment, of bringing our full attention to what is going on in the here and the now. This is in contrast to what most of us do most of the time, which is to live in our minds, continuously distracted by our thoughts about the past and the future.
The core principle of Buddhism is that suffering is a necessary part of the human experience, but we can learn to suffer much less by practicing mindfulness, by learning to live more in the moment, more in our senses and in our body, and less in our thoughts. We can change the way we understand our thoughts and our feelings, and begin to see that we can be in better control of them, rather than being chronically subject to, even tormented by, our worries and our regrets, our hurt and our anger, our longings and our loneliness.
The primary purpose of developing our mindfulness is to decrease distress and cultivate happiness. (Sounds like psychotherapy!) Mindfulness can often work better than medication for problems with attention, anxiety, and depression, as I discuss in other posts (attention). And with mindfulness we generate compassion, for ourselves and for others, accepting that each of us is subject to suffering and that each of us wishes to suffer less.