May 2017 By Shivi Verma Mindfulness practises have gripped the interest of individuals, organisations and corporate firms looking for a tool to stay calm, centred, and stress-free, says Shivi Verma A practitioner of mindfulness, Neha Lehl was working as a consultant in a corporate firm. She recalls a particularly trying time she encountered while on the job. She was having a meeting with two leaders of the same organisation who had a major conflict with each other. The idea of the workshop was to get them to talk and resolve the issue. Sadly, the discussion escalated into a big quarrel and everybody including her went into a tailspin. She says, "At that moment I took a deep breath and began to ground myself. Then I mentally zoomed out of the heat of the situation and saw from an impartial space, the holistic picture of the company. I thought about what the organisation needed from me at that moment. At that point, when I felt detached from the scene before me, a sense of absolute clarity and confidence came to me. I felt I was being governed by some higher forces. "Neha was then able to disengage the warring duo without making light of their issue. She acknowledged the seriousness of the conflict and got those who had left, back into the room. She spoke about what the company needed the most. Gradually, both the leaders were able to co-create an acceptable solution. The conflict ended up resolving a real problem that plagued the company. "I owe it to my consistent practise of mindfulness. I practise it most of the time, whether I am communing with nature, listening to music, watering the plants, or writing a journal, "she adds. Nothing frees you more from the agony of living than mindfulness. It is an activity that makes you step away from the dramas going on in your head and see life as it is. The idea of seeing life as it is often baffles people. Because most of us feel that our perspective on life is the clearest and most authentic one. That we are living on auto-pilot and not using our innate powers to harness the horses of life becomes apparent when we start cracking under the weight of our hasty decisions and actions. The process of being mindful, of being aware, of checking our options, of being objective and coming from a space of equanimity, starts to take hold of us when we begin our inward journey as seekers. It happens when all our previous knowledge and belief systems refuse to come to our aid in our dire straits. As a person progresses he realises that there exists a realm within himself that is capable of impartially witnessing the events of his life, without getting drawn into the dramas. And that this place is the seat of power, wisdom, bliss and joy. We begin to step out from our blinding egos that interpret life on the basis of the fulfilment of our dreams, needs, hopes, and fantasies. As long as we are the centre of our world, we cannot see the objective reality. Instead of appreciatingand acknowledging what is, we lend our own understanding to things, people and situations and complicate matters. Mindfulness is about stepping out from our emotions and ideas and confronting life in the most pragmatic, rational way. It is about giving the benefit of the doubt to people and situations, instead of jumping to conclusions and then reacting. It is about being neither positive nor negative but being aware of both sides of the picture, and then taking the most rational and objective route. Mindfulness is about being watchful of yourself. It is about witnessing your own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions. It is about taking responsibility for your life and surroundings. It is about humility, and admitting that there is only so much you can do as a doer. Being mindful is equivalent to being awake. It involves stepping out from a clouded mindset, which revolves around I, me, myself and being aware of others, their needs and wants. Says Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of Oxford University's department of psychiatry, “Mindfulness is direct knowing of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” While mindfulness would seem synonymous with other spiritual terms such as awareness or increased consciousness, there is something about the term which seems to have really hit the spot with the corporate world, psychologists and therapists. Jon Kabat-Zinn combined mindfulness with psychology and popularised it in the West Its Buddhist origin is partly responsible. Still chary of anything that seems remotely religious or God-oriented, the intellectuals and the corporate world find mindfulness to be a mercifully secular term dealing directly with the individual and his experience of reality, with no reference to mysticism or God. Therefore, they have embraced the term and the practice with open arms. Says Sandy Dias Andrade, Director of Just being, a Pune-based centre for mindfulness, “Mindfulness has become mainstream in the West because of the enormous research that backs up the practice. In the cultural context, mindfulness is taught as a secular practice and there might not be references to Buddhism though the way it is practised is in line with the Buddhist philosophy.” Mindfulness as a meditative practise is being hugely adopted in the corporateworld to resolve health, leadership and performance issues of the employees as well as leaders. History of mindfulness The roots of mindfulness date back to ancient spiritual practises observed in Hinduism, and to a larger extent, Buddhism. Says Joaquín, in his blog, Positive Psychology Programme, “From the Bhagavad Gita’s discussions of yoga to Vedic meditation, the history of Hinduism reads in part like a history of mindfulness. Of course, it is only a partial history, and another crucial player in the history of mindfulness is Buddhism.” Compared to Hinduism, Buddhism’s history is much better defined. Buddhism was founded around 400-500 BC, by Siddhartha Gautama, who was referred to as the Buddha (the awakened) from then on. Based on where and when Gautama was raised, it is safe to say that many Hindu teachings informed his upbringing. In general, Buddhism is a spiritual path that aims to show its followers the path to enlightenment.Mindfulness is regarded as the first step towards enlightenment in Buddhism. One of the reasons mindfulness seems inseparable from Buddhism is because many Western mindfulness proponents studied under Buddhist teachers. Yoga too, which isan ancient Indian discipline that uses breathing techniques, asanas and meditation for spiritual upliftment, incorporates mindfulness. A study in the West found that people heavily involved with yoga practices had higher levels of mindfulness than people who were only slightly involved or not involved. Interestingly enough, the recent rise of yoga’s popularity in the West coincides with the rise of mindfulness. But how exactly did all of these ideas, particularly mindfulness, start gaining so much popularity in the West? Perhaps the person most responsible for bringing mindfulness from the East to the West, was Jon Kabat-Zinn. A professor of Medicine and a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Oasis Institute for mindfulness- based professional education and training. This is also where Kabat-Zinn developed his Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, an eight-week programme aimed at reducing stress levels in people after combining mindfulness practice with Western psychological sciences. This integration with Western science was a crucial aspect in helping mindfulness gain widespread popularity in the West. What is mindfulness practice? Unlike meditation, which involves concentrating on a particular chakra or on breathing, or mantra chanting that requires you to focus on a word or a sound, mindfulness helps you get into a relaxed, non-judgmental awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations. It is about bringing our attention to our experience as it unfolds, rather than “living in our heads.” The theory is that by connecting with the present moment, calmly observing our thoughts, feelings and sensations and becoming more aware of them, we are better able to manage them. And this is so true! We live in our heads so much that we rarely relate to events and people from their present context. We operate from our stored beliefs, and fears, often destroying relationships and situations. As an adolescent I was the epitome of absentmindedness. Perennially daydreaming, I would often not notice what was happening right under my nose. Once my mother left me in charge of our house with the instruction to supervise the maid when shecame. I nodded and then picked up a book to read. After two hours, when she returned, she asked me if the maid had come. I said no. But as soon as my mother entered the kitchen she found all the dishes washed and stacked neatly on the shelf. The platform and floor looked swabbed, and freshly washed dusters hung from the line. She called me and showed me the evidence of the maid's work and wondered how it was possible for me to not have noticed her presence, her work, and later, her departure. Even I was dumbfounded at my unconsciousness. After that, I began making efforts to be more mindful. Initially, it was difficult, but I would often stop and step out from the realm of my thoughts. I would begin noticing everything around with greater penetration, unclouded by thoughts, just to be more alert and agile. Though I wasn’t confident about the outcome, I persisted nonetheless. I entered the path of spirituality much later in life but I guess my practise had begun from that moment itself. So how does one become more mindful? Says Benaiza Shroff, a counsellor at Just Being, a cen
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