Author: Nick Leibner
Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can help us be more effective problem solvers in our daily life and in our community as we take on social and environmental issues.
Often when we are stressed, our thoughts about the past or future get in the way of our enjoying, or even paying attention to, the present. When we are mindful, we are better able to plan for the future or reflect on the past. This can help us feel more confident and secure instead of anxious or sad, which can create more problems that didn’t exist before. Those negative emotions can zap the zest out of life. We may put off studying a topic we like just because we have a test. We may dislike a party, vacation, or game just because it didn’t turn out like we expected, or we could be fearing something that is fun before it starts because of the unknown.
These unpleasant emotions are important, they do serve a purpose, they are meant to draw our attention to things and say, “This is important, you better be prepared for this”, but often the anxiety can prevent us from preparing for what we will be doing, or the anxiety doesn’t stop even after we’ve prepared, and this is where mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness, simply put, is truly being present in the moment, and helps us get knowledge and control about our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
There are two components to mindfulness: awareness and acceptance. We are all familiar with awareness. We have probably spent countless hours trying to build awareness about certain environmental issues—both in ourselves and others. It is helpful to be truly aware before we act. Just like doing thorough research on an environmental issue, we can ask ourselves questions about our thoughts and feelings instead of believing our first judgement.
Acceptance, on the other hand, is much more complex. It’s the ability to observe and accept what is happening in our lives and around us, rather than judging or avoiding these thoughts as they stream into our mind. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking what is happening or wanting it to continue. It doesn’t mean that it is necessarily right or fair, and it doesn’t mean you are against change.
For example, we all know that many people don’t believe in climate change. We may have difficulty accepting this and be overwhelmed by emotions and give up or forget that our goal is to address climate change. Instead, we may try to change the minds of all the deniers. However, if we remain mindful, we may ask ourselves why does everyone need to believe in it for effective action to be taken against climate change? Also, we may ask ourselves, is this the best way I am using my time and talent? Hopefully, we will see that it almost always takes a lot less than 100% of the people to support things for positive action to happen, and rarely does everyone agree on something. More importantly, we may realize that some people will only change their mind about new laws regarding climate change, for example, after they’ve been implemented for awhile and the deniers no longer have to fear the unknown. So, focusing on people who are concerned, but not aware of concrete policy that they can support, may be a more empowering action to take.
We humans are the best problem solvers that we are aware of. Our great ability comes from having different and complex ways of looking at problems. Simply put, we have the emotional mind and the logical mind. Emotions are really helpful in prompting us to act quickly when our safety is concerned, and we don’t have time to think logically about the situation.
The logical part helps us come up with concrete solutions. These two different parts work together when we are at our best. For example, our emotions can help motivate us to act on the plan that our logical mind came up with, or they may even be the reason we came up with the plan in the first place.
When our logical mind and emotional mind are balanced and working together, they form what we can refer to as the Wise Mind, which is what we want to aim for in our lives. Of course, the more complicated and advanced something is, the more there is to go wrong. If our emotions take over, if our emotional mind is too strong, it clogs up our logical mind. This is often why you may find it easy to give advice to others but very difficult to follow your own advice. This is also why really intelligent people can make really dumb mistakes.
Too much logic can be just as much of a problem as too much emotion, and mindfulness is a way to bring balance to our mind and allow our logical mind and emotional mind to work together.
If we think of our minds as computers, practicing mindfulness could be the maintenance we do to to help our computers/minds run better and faster. Restarting the computer, deleting unnecessary files, shutting down programs we aren’t using, and organizing our files and cleaning up the desk top are things we do to our computer for it to run more efficiently. Mindfulness can bring the same efficiency, power, and clarity to our minds that these tasks bring to our computer.
Some signs that we are not being mindful and may need to practice mindfulness to help our minds work better are:
—difficulty in stopping our thinking about a certain thing even though we’ve tried(obsessing)
—feeling too much judgement, guilt, or shame
—being easily distracted
—difficulty feeling emotion
—speeding or rushing
Being aware of mindfulness is the first step towards empowering yourself to become a better problem solver, a more thoughtful and efficient employee or student, a happier person, and not letting your emotions rule you to the detriment of your Wise Mind.
At this time in our world, we are all feeling overpowered and overwhelmed by the pandemic and the domino effect of all of the other pieces of our lives and our community’s life that have been affected. So much of our life has changed, we probably feel we have no control over it. We may feel anxiety, depression, anger, mental fatigue, physical fatigue and loss of creativity. Most of us can choose to be aware of, and accept, that life as we knew it has changed for the time being. We can look for ways to still have some control in our lives by practicing mindfulness.
There are many different ways to cultivate mindfulness, and how we feel can guide us in choosing the right one. If we feel like life is an endless to-do list we could benefit from relaxing mindfulness activities such as focusing on calm breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. If we have a lot of guilt or shame, or are always judging, we can practice mindful forgiveness or think about what we can learn from our mistakes and how to avoid them in the future. If we feel like our mind is a ball just bouncing all over the place, we could benefit from exercise focused mindfulness such as yoga or Rainbow Walks.
A Rainbow Walk is simply going for a walk with the added feature of finding and observing different things that are each color of the rainbow and taking pictures or videos of what we observe. By engaging in exercise, we help stop over-thinking things as our mind gets to pay attention to our body. Going outside or being in nature activates our senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, and this can help us be mindful. Having to look for specific things helps further bring our attention to the present. The addition of taking pictures also adds to this mindfulness technique. According to the Greater Good Science Center," Photography is a physical manifestation of mindfulness. It is about stopping/pausing, observing, framing, focusing, and capturing/receiving…Basically, photography is about a relationship to the present moment. Relating to the present moment with joy and gratitude is a choice we can make. Slowing down, we can access joy by shifting the focus of our awareness to what uplifts us.”
After engaging in mindfulness, a problem that maybe seemed too difficult to deal with may seem a little more doable, or something that we couldn’t let go of now seems difficult to hold onto, or a solution to a problem we have been stuck on seems to slowly emerge.
Just like photography, mindfulness and acceptance is about making adjustments and something we can use to teach ourselves and others how to “see”.
Many thanks to Nick for this enlightening blog post. We hope to see you all out going for Rainbow Walks during CEI's Rainbow Walk Week from 1st - 8th January 2021. Let's start the new year off mindfully together!