FEATURE: Practical insights into mindfulness
KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - A new book tackles the practice of mindfulness, its benefits and how to do it right.
In the world of self-help books, life is never really that bad. There is often a “hack” to make things better, a Top Three Things to Do list, and many other suggestions to help you fix the unfixable, or at least feel good about yourself.
But what do you get when a mindfulness practitioner and an emotions researcher get together to write a book?
In the case of Sandy Clarke and Eugene Tee’s Mindfulness And Emotions, what you get is a sharp and precise presentation of the science and practice behind mindfulness. There's a little bit of neuroscience, a little psychology, some self-reflection and a call to action, all rolled into one book.
The authors, both 36, define mindfulness as the cultivation of “conscientious awareness” – that is, being present and deliberate in words and action – that will then lead to wholesome outcomes for ourselves and others.
They also debunk misconceptions about mindfulness in this book, like how mindfulness is not a Buddhist practice, it is not something you do “just to relax”, it likely won’t be something you can master overnight, and it certainly is not a cure all.
“In my opinion, the most misleading misconception about mindfulness is that it is a passive practice, where you just ‘accept’ everything. Mindfulness is so much more than that. There is a right way to practise mindfulness, and it offers several benefits when it is practised in accordance with the five core elements, which we cover in the book.
"It takes effort and is by no means a passive practice,” says Clarke, who has been practising mindfulness for over a decade .
He notes that like anything worth cultivating, you have to "put yourself into it".
“But of course that idea doesn’t sell so well, which is why a lot of mindfulness programmes focus on ‘letting go’, relaxation and happiness. This is all good stuff, but these are byproducts of the practice rather than the practice itself,” he says.
Clarke is a mindfulness practitioner who has been dabbling in meditation since he was 15. When he started working in journalism and experiencing "the stress that came with daily deadlines", it prompted him to look more seriously into mindfulness. This led him to his first stay at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Britain, when he was in his early 20s.
“I was blown away by the effects that mindfulness practice had on me. Over time, my sleep pattern improved, I became more patient with myself and others, and the headaches I suffered fairly regularly all but disappeared,” he relates.
He describes mindfulness, when practised properly, as akin to “carrying around a health kit for your mind”.
It keeps you grounded, he says, and gives you a sense of perspective that allows you to stop being so affected by all the little things, like traffic jams or a bad Internet connection, that can set us off and cause so much stress.
Clarke and Tee would like the book Mindfulness And Emotions to be seen as a friend that introduces mindfulness to you, and then suggest ways in which you can start being more mindful in day-to-day living.
“We hope that readers will feel encouraged and motivated to practise mindfulness for themselves, and that they will see – through consistent practise – how it can be beneficial for their well-being and relationships with themselves and others,” says Clarke.
Caught up in a fast-paced world, it is not unusual to hear people lamenting about there never being enough time, space and energy to live life as they want.
Tee, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at HELP University, offers this: “Most of us would like to live in a more compassionate, understanding and less hectic world. I also think we want to live a life that detaches our sense of self-worth from the things we own or the formal titles we hold. Mindfulness can help in both regards; it starts with a patient, kind and inward-directed attention that maybe there is a better way to live our lives, and to better treat those around us.”
He also explains that contrary to popular belief, mindfulness really isn’t about sitting down quietly, meditating, and watching thoughts and emotions go by.
“The practice calls us to action, encouraging us to be more deliberate, rather than impulsive; it is a thoughtful, considered antidote to the excesses that plague our modern lives,” says Tee.
Both Tee and Clarke agree that many mindfulness books – and self-help books in general – are often too abstract or simplistic.
“This can cause further misunderstanding on what mindfulness really is,” Tee notes.
“We wanted to write a book that, in part, addressed these misconceptions, as these can cause problems for people when they try to practise mindfulness.
"And we wanted it to strike a balance between providing practical insights into mindfulness and ensuring that what we offered the reader was both evidence-based and accessible,” he adds.
As for advice for those who are just starting out on their journey of mindfulness?
“Be patient in your practice. No one walks into a gym on their first day and becomes a champion weightlifter. Try to avoid striving for results – instead, focus on the process of mindfulness and enjoy the practice, and the rest will take care of itself,” says Clarke.
He cannot stress enough that mindfulness is not a cure all; it is not a magic fix.
“By nature, life will always have its ups and downs. Mindfulness helps to shift perspective, develop resilience, and work with life as it is in the moment – not how you think it should be.
"This enables us to deal with life’s challenges more effectively, while enhancing our appreciation of all the good stuff it has to offer,” he says.
How’s that for perspective?