It was whilst browsing through sale items recently in a popular UK bookstore that I first came across colouring books for adults. There were dozens of them. And without exception they all touted mental wellbeing as a reason to purchase one. Many of them used the word “mindfulness” in the title. I flicked through a couple and then replaced them on the sale table, quickly dismissing them as something for pensioners or for folk with too much time on their hands and too few hobbies.
It got me thinking about the word though, and I recalled telling a friend a few months previously that my daily yoga-style exercise regime involved being mindful. I explained to her that I tried to mindfully concentrate as completely as possible on each move, trying to perfect each pose, so that I can steadily over time improve my midlife body’s strength and flexibility.
“Mindful” according to my Roget’s Thesaurus is attentive; careful; remembering. The word “mindfulness” is not there. It is quite an old version mind you. According to the Cambridge Dictionary online “mindfulness” is the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm: Mindfulness can be used to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
And when I typed “mindfulness” into Google an incredible 33,800,000 results appeared.
Looking at the sheer volume of Google results I clearly need to buy myself a new dictionary. Although I’m pretty sure that just as I get myself up to speed with the latest terminology, there will be another fresh cartload waiting for me. Maybe I should just refer to Google whenever I happen across a new word that flummoxes me.
And then this morning I spotted this headline online from International Business Times – “The mindfulness craze rolls on with Ruby Wax as its latest champion – but does it really work?”
The first sentence reads as follows – “Mindfulness has become established as a lifestyle staple, widely touted as the solution for stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Its latest champion is Ruby Wax and she has a new book on the topic.”
Peter Carty, Books Editor at International Business Times says – “The core idea of mindfulness is to make individuals aware of their thoughts – but with a broader strategy. The goal is to make us more detached from the thoughts passing through our minds. The fundamental point here is the thoughts in your mind are not you: your essential being lies behind your thoughts. If you can merely observe your mental traffic, rather than being swept along by it, then its ability to harm you is lessened. One of the most effective mindfulness techniques, borrowed directly from Buddhism, is a meditation that simply focuses on the breath going in and out. This reduces stress and anxiety, particularly when combined with exercises to relax the body.”
I wonder how Ruby will fare with her new book pushing mindfulness?
I looked further and found that the NHS is also promoting mindfulness as a healthy lifestyle concept. There’s a whole chunk of the NHS website dedicated to its benefits.
Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. Professor Williams says that mindfulness can be an antidote to the “tunnel vision” that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired.
He goes on, “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.”
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. Awareness of this kind doesn’t start by trying to change or fix anything. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives,” he says.
I found “Mindfulness for Health” courses available online too. At a cost. Well, you’d be disappointed if they were free wouldn’t you? God forbid that a mindful teacher of mindfulness was to be so mindfully principled that they didn’t charge for their teaching …
In my view mindfulness is mostly about distraction, and finding a way to detach ourselves from our everyday stressful thoughts. I believe that we should all find some time every day to concentrate completely on some activity that interests us and which provides an opportunity to put aside the stress and frantic worries of the daily grind.
I quite like colouring in, sharing a page with my 4-year old granddaughter; I find it gives us a good opportunity to chat for the few minutes she’s actually able to sit still and concentrate, and it provides a worthwhile lesson for her on how to mindfully use a felt tip pen and keep within the lines. Any more than that though and I’ve got better things to do with my valuable time, much like my granddaughter.
And as for all those mindful colouring books strewn across the bookstore January sales table, I can’t help thinking that the peddling of mindfulness as a lifestyle concept to the masses is a passing fad, and simply another means to a substantial earner for the few.