Derived from an ancient practice, it has been reborn in the 21st century, featured not only in numerous lifestyle pages, but in the business, education and health sections of newspapers, too. It has even been embraced by the NHS.
Its underlying principle is that the “way we direct our thoughts affects our experience”, according to one mindfulness website.
But is mindfulness really just a waste of valuable “thinking time”?
Oxford professor Theodore Zeldin is convinced it is. He told an audience at this year’s Hay Festival that people should “stop trying to clear their heads”.
“Life is about living, it’s about going out there and meeting people and hearing their thoughts and opinions,” The Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
One mindfulness advocate commented, however, that this was precisely what the practice helped to achieve.
“…mindfulness meditation makes you more interested in others, more curious about people, more engaged with people and the world. It makes you more kind or compassionate for sure. Anyone who has practiced it for more than a few months knows these are some of the benefits,” he insisted.
Those are two very different views of mindfulness. But what does science have to say?
A review of studies that evaluated the merits of three kinds of mindfulness-based practices found “convincing evidence” of benefits for patients with certain physical and mental health problems.
“These mindfulness practices show considerable promise and the available evidence indicates their use is currently warranted in a variety of clinical situations,” said psychiatry professor Dr William R. Marchand – author of the Journal of Psychiatric Practice review – in an interview with PsychCentral.
Such results have led to the adoption of mindfulness in medical settings. Yet as with much research into potential healthcare breakthroughs, “considerable promise” is as conclusive as it gets. And for anyone desperate for healing now, that can feel nowhere near conclusive enough.
Of course, any hope of easing a problem is a plus for those whose needs haven’t so far been met by other means.
Yet as a mindfulness website explains, it doesn’t aim to “fix” stress, anxiety, depression or chronic pain. Instead, it says, it helps the individual relate in new ways to things that trouble them, “rather than trying to make them go away”.
Admittedly, addressing the situation from a mental standpoint is a significant step for those used to relying on a drug for a solution. But surely if we are facing anxiety, depression and chronic pain, “away” is precisely where we want such problems to go!
So is there a further step we can take in journeying from a focus on the body’s problems to a more mental embrace of its needs – one which might help achieve real freedom from our ailments?
Over the past three decades I have been exploring an approach to healing that similarly requires a discipline of thought. Yet rather than beginning with a pronounced awareness of either the body or our personal thinking, it starts with a willingness to “Look away from the body into Truth and Love, the Principle of all happiness, harmony, and immortality” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy).
This way of thinking is based on a conviction of a universal Mind, a divine Principle, Love, which is conscious of each one of us. Feeling the reality of a deeper, divine Mind that loves me and all – has brought me several valued experiences in which physical ailments or mental distress not only went away, but stayed away.
Such lasting change for the better has demonstrated to me that the “way we direct our thoughts” does indeed affect our experience, yet it also adds another dimension. It brings to light the very tangible love of God for all of us as Her children, beautifully described by the Psalmist:
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
That’s something very special that we can each be mindful of every day.
This blog was first posted on The News Hub as: “Are we seeking an even deeper mindfulness?”