The answer to these questions can be found in the mindfulness movement – a meditation practice that, when applied correctly, is as good as a drug. At its core, the practice seeks to direct one’s attention away from the future (to avoid creating anxiety) or past (which results in depression) and focus the mind upon the moment at hand i.e. “be in the present”.
Put in a crude way, if you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you end up shitting on what you have right now.
Other important aspects of mindfulness include developing a sense of gratitude, practicing self-compassion, and accepting life on life’s terms. Presumably, all of this supposed to make a person happier, healthier and more successful. Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo? Well, there’s an actual science to it.
Through the use of fMRI, scientists have been able to prove that the practice of mindfulness has a direct effect on the dopamine pathways in our brains. According to Sarah Robers in the Berkeley Science Review, the increased dopamine levels brought on by meditation has led to “increased present-moment awareness” and “greater productivity as a result of improved attention”. Exactly like a performance enhancing drug.
Unlike most drugs though, practicing mindfulness has numerous health benefits – it can lower your stress and anxiety levels and improve the quality of your sleep. It assists with the treatment of heart disease and cancer, reduces chronic pain, and improves overall gastro-intestinal health. In dealing with mental issues, psychotherapists now regard mindfulness meditation as a quintessential element in the treatment of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, OCD, and relationship issues.
“Exactly like a performance enhancing drug.”
With practitioners at all levels of society, the many benefits of the mindfulness movement have not gone unnoticed.
Mindfulness courses are popping up in academic institutions and business schools – Harvard, Stern and NYU, to name a few. One of the toughest schools in San Francisco was transformed by the power of meditation alone. Huge corporations such as Apple, McKinsey & Company, Deutsche Bank and Procter & Gamble have implemented such courses for its employees. Google has even developed a mindfulness/emotional intelligence training program called the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute with the aim of helping professionals and management teams adapt and evolve using the framework of mindfulness.
With everyone seemingly practicing mindfulness, you might be thinking of getting on board the train yourself. Thankfully, technology has made the practice of mindfulness accessible to the masses – all you need to do is download a meditation app such as Headspace and follow the instructions.
Some of the things that the app tells you to do may sound deceptively simple, such as noticing the length of your breath and labelling your thoughts as either “thinking” or feeling” (a process called “noting”) – but if you keep an open mind and allow the process to unfold, the science has shown that you’ll emerge from the process feeling happier, healthier, with a heightened sense of well-being. Hell, your increased productivity may get you that raise you’ve been wanting.
Finally, take the advice of Kung Fu Panda: “You have to let go of that stuff from the past, because it just doesn’t matter – the only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.”