I meditate every morning – for at least half an hour. Sometimes, I end up gaining energy and a kind of delightful groundedness from it that can carry me through the rest of the day. Sometimes, I feel it’s little more than sleeping sitting up, where the entire time can go by in a blink.
Ellen Langer would call the first instance one of mindfulness, and the second one of mindlessness. Ms. Langer is a social psychologist at Harvard University, who has studied Mindfulness and what she calls Mindlessness since at least the 1970’s. In a recent podcast, she spoke about what mindfulness really means for her.
She defines Mindfulness as the simple act of actively noticing things. For her, being mindful doesn’t necessarily involve meditating or yoga, or any particular recommended way of being. All of these things can be mindful, and they can also be unmindful, depending on how we are while we do them.
From her studies, experiments and research, she concludes that most of us are mindless most of the time, and that this mindlessness is at least a major contributor to illness and unhappiness in our lives.
In one study, for instance, which she terms Counter-Clockwise, she has a group of men in their 80’s live in a retreat for a week that has been retrofitted to around 20 years earlier. These men were to act as if this retrofit were in the present (i.e., as if they were 20 years younger). What she discovered, by measuring their physical and emotional well-being after that week, was that they not only felt 20 years younger, but that their hearing, vision, memory and strength had all significantly improved.
Her work addresses the mind/body question in an intriguing way: most of us still separate the mind from the body – looking at how the mind influences the body and vice versa. She doesn’t make this distinction. Instead, she sees mind and body as inseparable.
With this perspective, the Placebo can be seen as a powerful and valid drug instead of a mistake; one that unlocks our brain’s inner pharmacy, and gives us mastery over our own health. How empowering that is!
I could talk endlessly about the implications and applications stated and implied by Ms. Langer that come from her approach and perspective, but will offer up one that we can all use right away: re-invigorating our personal relationships.
Most, if not all, of us can find ourselves getting too used to our life partners. The prevailing wisdom when that happens is to change things up; to freshen that relationship by making it new again. And some people manage to do that with success. Or, you can try this:
Every day for a week, make a point of actively noticing 5 things about your partner. For instance, you might notice today that he or she carefully folded their pajamas before leaving for work. What you notice doesn’t have to be profound; it simply needs to be something you actively engage in in the moment.
What happens? A revitalized connection to your partner.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .