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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Awareness vs 'afflicted mind' - Why I teach mindfulness, not meditation

I teach mindfulness but not meditation and usually I practise mindfulness but not meditation. I think the distinction is important.

Knowing you are aware

In mindfulness, you are not only aware of what is going on but  you know that you are aware.  It's like the difference between walking and knowing  that you are walking. The knowing is what makes the difference when it comes to mindfulness. Mindfulness is something we naturally dip in and out of.  When you deliberately practise mindfulness you try to be mindful more often.  In my opinion it cannot do harm and is an asset worth cultivating.

Longer time

In meditation you focus your attention on an object such as your breath over a period of time, say twenty minutes.  This can lead to:

  • a sense of calm 
  • or of restlessness 
  • or what what Buddhist meditators sometimes call 'afflicted' mind.

Afflicted mind

In 'afflicted mind' painful thoughts, emotions and memories arise. That's why I have real doubts about introducing meditation to groups of strangers - in the workplace for instance - about whom I know nothing and who I may never see again: I don't want to leave anyone to cope with that 'afflicted mind.'

But I am happy to introduce mindfulness itself to anyone - it is immediately beneficial and doesn't do harm.

(These thoughts were prompted by an article in Tricycle Magazine called The Mindfulness Solution by Andrew Olendzki, author of Unlimiting Mind and director of the Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies. The article is probably only accessible if you have a subscription to Tricycle).

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Thursday, 28 January 2016

The best mindfulness research resource on the web

The American Mindfulness Research Association is a terrific resource for anybody involved in promoting or researching mindfulness. Its Mindfulness Research Monthly appears in PDF format and lists many research projects on mindfulness together with links to the publications in which the research is reported and it also highlights some of the studies.

Its news section reports on a very wide variety of areas in which mindfulness has been studied. These recent headlines will give you an idea of just how wide scope is:

"Mindfulness practice found to benefit drug-resistant epileptics."
"Mindful awareness programme offered to elite athletes on the USA cycling team."
"Veterans report reduced PTSD symptoms after a mindfulness meditation program."
"Brain imaging study of adolescents
links cortical changes and mindfulness."

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Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Why mindfulness in the workplace? What the Mindful Nation UK report says.

More and more organisations are introducing mindfulness to their wellbeing programs but what are the benefits and who is doing it? 

Here is a good summary from the Mindful Nation UK report produced last year by an all-party parliamentary group at Westminster (MBI's refers to mindfulness-based initiatives):

"A number of randomised controlled trials of MBI's have found positive effects on burnout, wellbeing and stress. Mindfulness can assist with focus and a range of cognitive skills. Studies have shown that those using mindfulness report lower levels of stress during multi-tasking tests and are able to concentrate longer without their attention being diverted. 

"Even brief periods of mindfulness practice can lead to objectively measured higher cognitive skills such as improved reaction times, comprehension scores, working memory functioning and decision-making."

Among those who have introduced mindfulness training in the UK and US, according to the report, are:

Teacher employers (University of Toronto)
Fire services in the US
Judges in the US
National Health Service
Department of Health
British Telecom
Unilever
Barclays
Goldman Sachs
Google
Transport for London
Bosch
Surrey & Sussex Police Force

The report notes that mindfulness is not the answer to a dysfunctional or toxic workplace. But most workplaces are neither toxic nor dysfunctional and mindfulness has a big contribution to make to employee wellbeing.

You can get the Mindful National UK report (pdf) at this link.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Seven ways to make 2016 a mindful year

If practising mindfulness is in your plans for 2016, these seven tips will help:

1. Choose a short mindfulness practice you can use every day or several times a day.
For instance, notice the sensation of your breath at your nostrils for the length of three in-breaths and three out-breaths. Even in this short space of time, your attention will drift; bring it back to your breath calmly and without self-criticism.

2. Try a little acceptance at the start of the day.
Mindfulness has two major aspects: returning your attention from mind-wandering to the present moment; and practising acceptance. Briefly look over what you are going to have to do today and accept it. This could include an annoying task or an unpleasant meeting or any of the other challenges in our day. Just accept it. Try to do this at a set time, for instance before you get out of bed in the morning, having breakfast, waiting for a train or tram and so on.

3. Make a "no problem solving" period part of every day.
We have an addiction to mulling over problems and this exiles us from the present moment. Set a short period every day during which you promise not to solve a single problem in your life! During that time you will find it much easier to be present and mindful. Good times for this? During meals, when commuting or tidying for instance.

4. Find your anchor point.
The "anchor point" is a practice or sensation that anchors you to mindfulness and helps you come back when you find yourself wandering off in your mind. Examples are: the sensation of your breath against your nostrils; the feeling of your feet against the floor, ground, or against the soles of your shoes; or the use of a silent word such as "returning."

5. Do a body scan when you wake up at night.
When you wake up at night it's all too easy to drift into worries or regrets. Instead, bring your attention to your body from your toes to the top of your head, in stages (for instance toes, feet, calves etc). Rest your attention on each area for the length of three in-breaths and out-breaths. When you find your mind has drifted, come back to wherever you had reached. Doing this mindfulness practice is far more restful than worrying about being awake - and it might even send you back to sleep!

6. Use a free mindfulness resource. 
If you're on Facebook, join my mindfulness group for a simple, unobtrusive way to remind yourself to be mindful during the year. Enter the name of the forum (Padraig O'Morain's Mindfulness Forum) in your Facebook search box. It's a closed group but if you click "join group" I'll add you. Thousands of people receive a brief daily mindfulness reminder in their email from myself. It's called The Daily Bell and you'll find a sign-up box on this blog.

7. Eat with awareness
Be aware that you are eating while you are eating. Pay attention to taste and texture and to the sensation of fullness. If you don't already eat mindfully you will be surprised at how much of our eating is "mindless".  One way to practise mindful eating is to choose to be aware of your food for the first minute of every meal. This will then expand into a more general mindful eating practice.

Related: Six ways to make 2015 a mindful year


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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Mindfulness and the appreciation of fleeting happiness

I have met people who refuse to be happy because happiness doesn't last. They have never accepted the fact that you can't summon happiness and you can't make it stick around. It comes and goes. They even think happiness causes subsequent unhappiness - though that unhappiness would most likely have come anyway.

So mindfulness doesn't guarantee happiness. However, it can increase your appreciation of your own happiness when happiness comes to call. 

Think of happiness as a visitor who comes into your home, stays for a while, then goes away without warning about its business. But though you are sorry to see it go, you know it will come back again.


The next time you notice you are happy, make a space for it. When you find yourself ignoring your visitor and going off into some story of resentment or fear in your head, come back to your experience of happiness. Just check in that it's still there and, if it is, enjoy it.

We have a tendency to devote more attention to getting what we want than to enjoying while we have it. This may have developed as an evolutionary trait - for instance, hunters and gatherers need to spend more time hunting and gathering than, for instance, eating what they have gathered. So it comes very easily to us to discount happiness and let it go by unnoticed.

Mindfulness, the practice of returning again and again to awareness of your experience, will help you to enjoy your happiness while it is with you and, with luck, it will prolong its stay. But one hour or day you will notice that happiness has gone away. Relax. It will return. Your job is to notice it when it comes back and to give it your attention.

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