MINDFULNESS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The reality of all of our lives is that they contain suffering, difficulties and problems. It is also our reality that we all wish to be happy. So, while this is not exclusive to the 21st century the reality, particularly of mental suffering has been compounded more than ever before. We must first understand where true well-being comes from and that it is from within ourselves not from external means that we bring this into our lives. Despite the enormous influences telling us otherwise, it is a complete error to believe that the more we consume the happier we will be. It is not what we take from the world that makes us happy it is what we bring to it from ourselves.
What is therefore the relevance of mindfulness in the 21st century? The inputs into our lives and therefore minds have become vastly more in number and the degree of complexity. As a result, our minds are far more unhealthy suffering from anxiety, worry, stress, depression and manifold other symptoms many of which were never so much of an issue before. Lack of mindfulness/awareness within our minds is one of the chief if not the root of many of these unhealthy mental issues.
Our current century involves evolving from a natural environment to one full of artificial stimuli. Phones, schedules, to-do lists, work schedules, deadlines, computers our external influences have multiplied beyond recognition. All this is moving us more and more out of touch with ourselves, our reality and our inbuilt awareness.
Losing touch with ourselves, our awareness, our sense of community and human interaction as well as the natural environment has left us with the problems of stress, anxiety, and depression.
The principal reason for this as mentioned is that external influences have increased enormously all of which pull us out of ourselves and fool us into believing that the external world is where happiness lies.
Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. It is a mental reaction to the manifold external stimuli which were in nature few and required for survival to countless and which are mostly unrequired for survival.
Stress also arises due to bringing our long ‘to-do lists’ from our long-term memory all at once into our short-term memory… no wonder it cannot cope.
While these circumstances trigger this mental reaction, it is the inability of the mind to effectively deal with these that is the root of the problem. Changing our external world in the main is impossible to achieve but if we can deal with our mind's ability to deal with these circumstances then we can be happy in any external environment.
The essential point here in terms of where stress comes from is to emphasize that it is our own minds that create stress, not the external environment. That means the solution is in our own hands not beyond our control. As long as we still believe happiness and suffering come from outside ourselves we have no hope or chance to control these things. When we understand the root is from within than we have somewhere to begin working.
Rather than ourselves being in control of our thoughts they control us. There is no awareness that we are more than our thoughts. Without awareness, there is no perspective that thoughts are just ‘thoughts’ we do not have to identify with them or become them. That also those very thoughts are creating a reality that is just that…’a reality created by our thoughts’ quite apart and disconnected with the actual reality. Without this perspective which awareness allows we are spun around in wandering thoughts taking us wherever they wish and among this chaos we manifest stress. Our foundation here is to learn we are not our thoughts we are more than that, we have a level of awareness below these and not becoming or identifying with our thoughts is not only more skilful but eminently do-able. We cultivate awareness to take a step back from the thoughts be the observer just as if we were watching a show etc. In such a way we learn not to be controlled by our thoughts.
Most of our daily activities have become automated so that they are carried out without awareness. We drive, eat, wash, cook, walk and work in a state of mind performing functions without any actual awareness of those activities. How many of the tasks we performed during the day can we remember at the end of it? This shows how little knowledge of what we are doing there is. By definition, this means we are acting in a state of our minds and are never in the present moment when on autopilot therefore technically we are never living in the only moment we can actually be alive in. This leaves us feeling disjointed out of place and uncomfortable even in the seemingly most enjoyable moments of our lives.
We have an inbuilt fight or flight response that happens in a natural environment due to real threats to our life or habitat. The body's sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulate the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. After the threat is gone, it takes between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.
This same inbuilt response is activated through non-actual threats to ourselves. A traffic jam, being criticised, being late for an appointment, feeling guilt over what we have said or done. These and so many other daily occurrences are not at all life-threatening, yet our inbuilt fight or flight response is being activated by them and contributing to our stress anxiety worry, etc. Our own minds are creating this illusion of these things being so vital when they are not. Again, awareness is the key to changing this.
Out of this response arises the trinity of self-criticism, self-isolation and self-absorption. We attack ourselves for what went wrong (I’m an idiot), flee from ourselves through distraction into work alcohol tv phones etc. or get stuck in our heads and ‘why me’ etc.
Depression: Reminiscing over negative things from the past not letting them go and feeling that things will never change is primarily what leads to depression. Although certain physiological conditions certainly contribute to depression it is primarily an emotional state and therefore arising from and is treatable with our mental processes.
Anxiety: concern with what could happen in the future, the manifold ways in which things ‘could’ go wrong primarily leads to anxiety. Worrying about ourselves, our situation, our status family friends, etc., and how these could manifest negatively in the future creates this state of mind.
We can see therefore that both of these mind states are mentally created predominantly based on complete illusions without any basis in reality. Particularly the reality of the present moment.
If we are in the present moment, not only are we experiencing the only moment we can actually live in, but these illusions and the depression and anxiety they create cannot arise.
As the previous note creating fantasies related to the past and future lead to anxiety, worry depression, etc. and, adds to the inputs which initiate our fight or flight response and thereby lead to stress. Our founda