In an experiment where people had a choice of fifteen minutes silence in a room without distraction or administering a shock, over 40% of those that took part, chose to administer a shock to themselves.
What makes this even more remarkable is
, the people who took part were given an electric shock before the experiment and were asked, if they could pay to avoid an electric shock, would they pay? So the ones that said, Yes, I would pay to avoid a shock, were the only ones who got to take part. So 40% of those, volunteered for a shock over silence…shocking isn’t it?
The Shocking Truth
We all know people, maybe even ourselves, who constantly keep themselves busy or have drinks every night or finds some other mechanism to stop them being left alone with their own thoughts. What this experiment highlights is that, these people are the majority. I can put my hand up right now and say yes, sometimes I keep myself busy to distract myself from my own thoughts. That’s why a few years ago, I started to practise Mindfulness and recently completed a course with the Irish Mindfulness Institute.
Originally a Buddhist practise, it’s achieved widespread acclaim over the last decade thanks to the clinically proven mindfulness based stress reduction program created by Dr Jon Kabat Zinn and later the clinically proven Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for relapsing depression by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams & John Teasdale. It works on one simple premise, live in the moment. Although some have suggested it is a relaxation progam, that would make it goal oriented and in mindfulness, the goal is not relaxation, the goal is just awareness of the present moment.
While this might not seem like much of a distinction, I want you to think about your life and how often your own goals affect you enjoying your life on a daily basis.
Who can resonate with thoughts like,I will be happy when:
- I make it to pay day
- I’m on holiday
- My mortgage is paid
- The kids are older
- I finish school
- I finish college
- I finish work
There is always some goal, a time when happiness will be present, that future date. Then when you get older, you will reminisce on how good those college days were, how great it was when your kids were young and the friendships you miss from work. You will reminisce on earlier times when your whole life was in front of you and anything was possible.
The Problem of Thinking
Your brain, a wonderful device that helps you problem solve and stay alive. It’s a solution oriented device that deals with past and future. Looking for the present moment is not a task, its a state that asks nothing and kinda leaves the brain on the subs bench.
Trying to solve the problem of awareness by using the brain is like asking a serial killer to solve the increase in homicides, it’s not in their skillset and really goes against their nature.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction(MBSR) program and the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program has taken meditation from the airy fairy realms of new age and proven it’s an effective technique in alleviating the following:
- Reducing Anxiety & Panic
- Improved Anxiety, depression, self esteem and sleep for adolescents
- Shows promise in treating OCD
- General Psychological Distress
- Back Pain
Think of Mindful awareness like an untrained muscle and an 8 week mindfulness program as training that muscle to become stronger, so awareness is not such an elusive state.
For some, they join a program as they are recovering from or managing a mental health issue.
For others, its about reducing stress, appreciating life, growing compassion for yourself and others. The crazy thing is, they have done brain scans on people who have completed mindfulness courses and in eight weeks the brain has altered. This has been illustrated on functional MRI’s showing changes in blood flow to certain areas.
- There is increased activity in the Insula region of the brain responsible for self awareness and empathy.
- Decreased activity in our emotional centre, the Amygdala. That’s not saying we feel less, just more in control of our emotions. There is a difference between giving someone the finger under the dashboard and letting it go a minute later than there is tailgating them for ten miles.
- Increased activity in the left frontal regions which have been shown to lift mood.
The good news is, there has never been a time with more resources available for mindfulness. Although we could talk about it till the cows come home, in the words of the matrix, no one can be told what it is, you just have to experience it for yourself:
- MBCT & MBSR programs now available nationwide in most countries.
- Mindfulness books and CD’S with the eight week programs easily purchased off Amazon or for double the price in your local book shop.
- Multiple Mindfulness Apps, many of which cost as much as the air you breathe.