Tag Archives: Being Present

Can the Simple Act of Making a List Boost Your Happiness?

seishonagonWhen I was in college, I took a class on the culture of Heian Japan,  and the one and only thing I remember about that subject is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This strange, brilliant book has haunted me for years.

Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, and in her “pillow book,” she wrote down her impressions about things she liked, disliked, observed, and did.

I love lists of all kinds, and certainly Sei Shonagon did, as well. Her lists are beautifully evocative. One of my favorites is called Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster:

  •  Sparrows feeding their young
  •  To pass a place where babies are playing.
  •  To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.
  •  To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.
  •  To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.
  •  To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.
  •  It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

Other marvelous lists include Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past, Things That Cannot Be Compared, Rare Things, Pleasing Things, Things That Give a Clean Feeling, Things That One Is in a Hurry to See or to Hear, People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, and, another of my very favorites, from the title alone, People Who Have Changed As Much As If They Had Been Reborn.

Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life. Just reading these lists makes me happier.

How about you? Have you ever made a list of observations, in this way?

***

Now for a moment of sheer self-promotion: For reasons of my own, which are too tiresome to relate, I’m making a big push for Happier at Home. If you’ve been thinking about buying it, please buy now! If you’d like a little more info before you decide, you can…

Read a sample chapter on “time”

Listen to a sample chapter

Watch the one-minute trailer–see if you can guess what item has proved controversial

Request the book club discussion guide

Get the behind-the-scenes extra

Final note: I love all my books equally, but my sister the sage says that Happier at Home is my best book.

Stock up now! Okay, end of commercial. Thanks for indulging me.

photo by: koalazymonkey

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before New Years

moonreflectionThese few days before the start of the New Year have a magical and sacred quality to them.  I appreciate the lull in activity that often takes place this week and the opportunity we have to reflect back on the year that is ending, as well as to create new possibilities and intentions for the year that’s about to start.  It often seems more exciting to focus on our “resolutions” for the coming year than it does to look back.  However, before we jump ahead and start making our goals for next year, it’s essential that we complete the year that is about to end consciously.

As much as I personally love this completion process, I usually have mixed emotions reflecting back on the year.  There is often excitement, gratitude, and joy for all of the wonderful accomplishments, experiences, insights, and more.  There is also sadness, disappointment, and sorrow over the things that I didn’t accomplish, the people and things I’ll miss, and the places in my life where I struggled or failed.

This is as true as ever as 2012 comes to a close. This past year I’ve experienced some really big highs and some painful lows. I’m truly grateful for all that I’ve learned and experienced. And, while I have lots to appreciate from this past year, I’m also glad to see it end! How about you?

Due to the common mixture of emotions we experience and especially with a year like 2012 which created a lot of growth opportunities for most of the people I know and work with, it’s essential that we embrace and practice the art of completion.  Completion is a conscious process we engage in whereby we do and say whatever we need to in order to create a true sense of closure to an experience (in this case, the year that is about to end).

Because we often have resistance to authentically celebrating and appreciating ourselves, reflecting honestly on our accomplishments or our failures, acknowledging our real results or lack thereof, grieving loss with depth, and more – we usually just roll through the end of things and either avoid completion all together or move onto the next thing as fast as we can.  When we do this, however, we miss out on a sacred and important process.

Completion allows us to bring things to a close with a sense of gratitude, reverence, and peace.  When we allow ourselves to experience a sense of true completion, we move into the next phase of life bringing with us the gifts, lessons, accomplishments, experiences, and more from what we’ve just been through.  When we don’t take the time to truly complete something, we end up carrying baggage, regrets, fear, and unresolved issues into our next experience.  These things don’t serve us and often end up undermining our success and fulfillment.

As we get ready for 2013 and begin to think specifically about what we want to create and experience in the New Year, one of the most important things we can do is to complete 2012 in a conscious and powerful way.

Completion Questions

Here are some questions you can ask and answer yourself, as a way to create a sense of completion for 2012:

1)  What were my biggest lessons in 2012?

2)  What am I most proud of from this past year?

3)  What were my biggest disappointments in 2012?

4)  What am I ready to let go of from this past year?

5)  What else do I need to do or say to be totally complete with 2012?

As you take some time to think about and write down your answers to these questions, see if you can reflect on this past year with a sense of appreciation and empathy.  The word “appreciate” means to recognize the value of (not necessarily like, agree with, or want to experience again).  Whether your year was “wonderful,” “terrible,” or somewhere in between – we each have so much we can appreciate about this past year.  And, it’s important for us to have as much empathy as we possibly can for ourselves (and those around us), especially right now.

If you’re anything like me, you probably had some big failures or disappointments this past year.  When we can remember that we almost always do the best we can with what we have in each moment of our lives, we can hopefully let go of our feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment over any of the things that didn’t go as planned for us in 2012.  And, you probably had some incredible things happen in your life this past year as well.  It’s important that we acknowledge ourselves for all of it – the highs and the lows.

See if you can create some sacred time in the next few days to share your answers to these completion questions with some of the important people in your life (and maybe ask them to answer these questions as well).  By creating a conscious intention for completion, you will give yourself the gift of appreciation for this past year and in so doing, allow a space to open up in which you can create your goals and intentions for 2013 with a sense of peace, power, and clarity.  And, as you ponder these questions, you may realize that there is something important you want to do or say in order to leave 2013 behind and step into 2011 with freedom and passion.

Have fun with this.  And, congratulations on completing another year of this magical, bizarre, wonderful adventure we call life – what a ride!

How will you consciously complete 2012? What can you do or say to leave 2013 behind you in a powerful, authentic, and peaceful way? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog here.

Originally published in 2010

 

Slow Your Roll: Think Twice Before You Yell, Honk or Lose It!

I was recently driving in downtown San Francisco smack dab in the middle of rush hour when I witnessed a kind act that taught me an important life lesson from behind the wheel.

Traffic was packed with pedestrians, bicyclists and zig-zagging skateboarders who were crossing Market and 7th streets like Atari’s Frogger game.

Remember that? I think I’m dating myself again. That moment brought me back to my high school driver’s education class. For a moment, I felt like I was driving in a simulator just hoping for a good grade, but this time it was real life waiting to teach me a lesson.

My car was positioned four car-lengths behind the intersection. The light was green, but traffic wasn’t moving. Within a few seconds of the light turning green, the drivers behind me started honking their horns. The honking overpowered the hustle and bustle of traffic. For a few seconds, I started getting antsy too, but instead of getting flustered, I looked around inquisitively – surely, I thought to myself, something going on was creating the snarled and inert traffic.

Suddenly, my angst turned to empathy and I shivered with realization. A blind, disoriented man came into view as he wandered in the middle of the street not knowing where to go. All this confusion and frustration that everyone else was feeling while in their cars safely tucked away behind the wheel – imagine how he must be feeling! People screaming, horns honking, not being able to see the multiple sources of anger and annoyance … his confusion trumped ours instantly.

It wasn’t until I witnessed three people rushing to usher him out of harm’s way that I finally took a breath. Their kindness warmed my heart and made me smile inside and out, and suddenly I was so very thankful that I hadn’t let my frustration get the best of me.

The moment triggered memories of my late Auntie Hong Yee. She was a graceful woman, who embodied the word “Zen,” and she was my favorite aunt because she never judged and was always supportive of me and my four siblings. We trusted her and felt we could confide in her.

Hong Yee fought a long, courageous battle with cancer and passed away about ten years ago, but her timeless wisdom embraces us. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about her. I used to accompany her on an occasional errand and on some of her medical visits.

She did things on her own timetable, slowly, with patience and this included driving. She walked at her own pace.  She would take her time meticulously cleaning and cooking. Oftentimes, she would drive under the speed limit. If the speed limit said 45 mph, she would carefully drive 40 mph or less.

Cancer slowed her down even more, to about 35 miles per hour. Every time I was in the car with her — people would honk, snicker and even flip the bird at her. As a teenager I remember getting angry at them.  I wanted to shout back at them and explain that she was ill and her days on earth were numbered. She felt my nervous energy and in a soft, loving voice, she said, “so what… let them get mad, they are not being conscious of what they’re doing.” I didn’t fully understand it then.

This experience changed my outlook on life’s speed bumps and barriers that block my path. Through her actions Hong Yee taught me to be more aware of my impatience and recognize that it is my ego that is getting out of control and driving the negative emotions. I also learned to be conscious of the way I react to other people’s actions and not to lash back out of habit – after all, negativity begets negativity.

I learned that I too needed to look at every situation that comes my way with the same compassion and consciousness as my beloved auntie. I wondered, what would the world be like if we viewed all the slow drivers as though they are our aunties, friends, family members or neighbors, who are going through their own battles in life. This awareness is the roadmap to my actions and have changed the trajectory of how I react.

All our actions and reactions affect others. If you’re a road raging parent, your kids will learn from your actions, and they too may react the same way, while driving, walking or living.

Beep. Beep. You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to what you choose to say or do to others. This is what my Auntie Hong Yee taught me: Be aware. Be conscious. And smile at other angry drivers.

(Oh, and don’t text while driving.)

Fresh and Unfixed: There Is Only Now

Being present lets us experience each moment in our lives in a way that cannot be fully lived through memory or fantasy.

 

It can be easy for us to walk through the world and our lives without really being present. While dwelling on the past and living for the future are common pastimes, it is physically impossible to live anywhere but the present moment. We cannot step out our front door and take a left turn to May of last year, any more than we can take a right turn to December 2013. Nevertheless, we can easily miss the future we are waiting for as it becomes the now we are too busy to pay attention to. We then spend the rest of our time playing “catch up” to the moment that we just let pass by. During moments like these, it is important to remember that there is only Now.

In order to feel more at home in the present moment, it is important to try to stay aware, open, and receptive. Being in the present moment requires our full attention so that we are fully awake to experience it. When we are fully present, our minds do not wander. We are focused on what is going on right now, rather than thinking about what just happened or worrying about what is going to happen next. Being present lets us experience each moment in our lives in a way that cannot be fully lived through memory or fantasy.

When we begin to corral our attention into the present moment, it can be almost overwhelming to be here. There is a state of stillness that has to happen that can take some getting used to, and the mind chatter that so often gets us into our heads and out of the present moment doesn’t have as much to do. We may feel a lack of control because we aren’t busy planning our next move, assessing our current situation, or anticipating the future. Instead, being present requires that we be flexible, creative, attentive, and spontaneous. Each present moment is completely new, and nothing like it has happened or will ever happen again. As you move through your day, remember to stay present in each moment. In doing so, you will live your life without having to wait for the future or yearn for the past. Life happens to us when we happen to life in the Now.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / joiseyshowaa

I Don’t Need To Understand

Christopher sits in front of me. He is angry, angry at how I’ve been, at how I talked, at how I behaved. He talks and talks and talks. An endless litany of words that push me, poke me, assault me.

 

My mouth pressed together into a thin, angry line, my body rigid. I stare at him, unblinking, hardening with his every word. I am not angry, I am hardening my body into an armor.

 

He doesn’t talk now and I stare at him. I will have to say something soon, he waits for me to say something. But I can’t. I am so rigid, hidden so far behind my defenses now that  all I can think to say are sarcastic, angry things. Words that will push him away, that will stop his words, that will let me escape. 

 

I don’t want to say those words, I see what they are, I see what they are for, I see that they are not real. I can’t say anything that is real.

 

I try, I look for it, I try to reach myself under the thick, hard skin, but I can’t speak it. I try and the armor tightens, It’s getting harder  to breath, harder to sit still. I try to speak and the pressure strengthens. I fight against it now, against the urge to fight back, to bite, to kick, to scream, to push … I don’t want to fight.

 

I press my lips harder together and say nothing. I can hardly stand it now. The armor is suffocating me. I need to get away but I can’t without fighting, without giving in to it, without doing what it wants me to do.

 

I don’t want to do it, I want to stay present no matter what happens. Stay present even if only a little, even if all I can do is sit still and stare. But the pressure becomes unbearable and I hide my face behind my hands. I can’t stare anymore, I can’t look.

 

My head is spinning, reeling in a drunken confusion. Christopher speaks, asks me if I could look at him but I shake my head, I can’t, I can’t look, I can’t stand it … he says something more but I can’t understand him now… there is a noise, a swirling, dizzying motion in my head and then suddenly something lifts, something leaves suddenly, flies away and is gone … 

 

I open my eyes – the armor, the pressure, is gone. I can be here now, I can look at him, I can talk to him.

 

"I’m sorry" I say

 

I don’t know what it was. I can see, looking back, how it affected me, how it changed me, but it’s gone now. Where I try to look, to see – there is nothing. It’s gone.

 

I had an impression of my childhood, of the trauma, the national polish trauma, that I inherited at birth.It must have been something from that time, but I don’t need to know what it was, I don’t need to analyze it, I don’t need to understand.

 

It was there, it was trying to control me, I would not be controlled, and it left.

 

Now it’s gone, gone as though it’s never been.

 PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Meredith_Farmer

Employing Presence: Being Present At Work

 

 

 Bringing your presence into your work activities can fill the entire experience of working with new energy and life.


Being present at work begins before we even go to our place of employment. It starts with our intention to bring consciousness into everything we do, including those activities we do for money. Whether you are a secretary who files papers all day, a janitor who cleans the local high school, or a nurse caring for children, there is much to be gained by fully engaging in the tasks at hand. When you decide to bring your presence into your work activities, you may find that the entire experience of working is filled with new energy and life. 

Sometimes we believe that when we step through the doors of our workplace, we cease being ourselves and start being someone else’s employee. Though our employer may depend on us to perform certain tasks, the truth is that we never stop being ourselves. The commitment to being a conscious, empowered person of integrity doesn’t stop and start with a time clock. Our decision to be present for our own lives is what weaves together all of our experiences from the moment we wake up, throughout our entire workday, and to the moment we turn off the lights at night. 

 

healing for my sister, exploring the journey within (a personal testimony)

My dad’s passing last year on November 10, 2009 had a monumental impact on me.  What do you do when the only person in this world who "sees" you is gone?  I felt lost, abandoned, and scared.  Despite being  blessed to have so many loving people around me, during those moments, I felt like my life had lost its purpose.  I realized that many of the things that I did and wanted to do were connected to my dad. 

 

While there was definitely a part of me that wanted to run, hide, and even die, the other part of me knew this thinking wouldn’t serve me or his memory.

 

One night, last December when I found myself screaming out my grief, a thought entered my mind, "Rosangel, you are very lucky for the 34 years, beautiful years, you shared with your father". 

 

That’s when a little voice inside my head whispered, "Be grateful."

 

This is how 1blessingaday was born (my gratitude practice on FB/Twitter).

 

When I visited Haiti after the earthquake in February and witnessed how people were living, it did something to me as well.  Seeing their extreme living conditions, all the destruction, witnessing people fight for a bag of rice, or standing in line on a very hot day for a bucket of water was a very humbling experience.  I witnessed a resilience I rarely see back home.

 

During that time, I was Line Producing MTV’s Teen Cribs Series Season 1 & 2 which consisted of 60 episodes that were produced within an 8 month period.  I was also in PTP training at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.  Talk about trying to "do it all".  It didn’t work. The result was a fatigued Rosangel.  All the years of living life running, multi-tasking, worrying about others, money, relationships, going on very little rest, not focusing on my body, my mind, or my spirit, with grief as the cherry on top, lead me to a very scary moment.  It happened one Saturday night this past May.

 

That night I found myself looking death right in the eye.  My chest was bothering me.  My mind and my spirit felt weak. My body was screaming it couldn’t take anymore.  I felt like my light was about to dim for good.  As I stood in the middle of my kitchen with my right hand on my heart, I asked myself, "If these are my final moments, how should I spend them?"  The answer was simple, I would spend it with me, being silent and being grateful for all of those people and experiences, good or bad life has shared with me.  I wrote a letter to a loved one, took a slow hot shower. I prepared myself to rest. Took a deep breath, said my prayers, and met my sleep with peace. 

 

Thankfully, I am not dead, or else I wouldn’t be writing this. 😉 

 

But it took this profound experience for me to understand the meaning of my life and its purpose.

 

My favorite quote these days encapsulates it all, "Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace." ~Author Unknown

 

Experiences like these have life changing effects and this has helped shaped my vision for my business called "healing for my sister", exploring the journey within… Holistic Health Coaching.  My intention is to guide people towards creating a life of balance using a holistic approach, such services include Gratitude Coaching, Life Coaching, Spiritual Coaching, and Nutritional Wellness. 

 

I am really excited and look forward to walking side by side on this journey with you.

 

 

peace, love, light & bendiciones,

 

 

"Slowing down has changed my life, living in gratitude has set me free".

Rosangel

(angels angel)

 

Calling Me Home

No matter how far I roam, I’m always called back home.

For much of the past year, I’ve been caught up in some major life changes. I left the San Francisco Bay Area, which I had called home for almost three decades, and moved to Boulder, Colorado — a place I had barely visited — for a great new job. I left behind lifelong friends to move to a place where I knew only a handful of people. I took the leap, like the Fool in Tarot, into the abyss.

And I love it.

I learned to focus on who I am, not who I want to be or who I want to be perceived as. My drive to work is beautiful, down one country road that heads straight into the Front Range of the Rockies, then I turn right and run parallel to the jagged peaks. Sometimes I pull over and just marvel. When I stay home past the sunrise, I am treated to some of the most spectacular colors and light imaginable.

A little stray dog with a bad leg limped into my life, and he has become my buddy. He gets me out for dawn and dusk patrols. He snuggles up to me when I need a little loving. And he gets excited to see me even when he’s playing with his buddies. This little guy teaches me about unconditional love every day.

And over the summer, a beautiful, passionate artist took a shine to me. We talk for hours, laugh until we have to dry our eyes, and enjoy all the flavors of life so much more deeply together. Food has become a delight instead of a chore or reflex. The moonlight dancing on the water takes on a samba rhythm with her. And being with her brought me back here.

Back home. Where I can write freely about what it means to be alive. To be a spiritual being on this very human journey. And what it means to me to embrace my humanity — to live, love, and be loved. To experience the sensuous nature of this physical realm and be deeply grateful for it.

Life really is a gift. And being present in this very moment is the best way to experience it.

May your day be filled with gentle, loving reminders of this.

Namaste.

An excerpt from “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness” by Diana Winston and Susan Smalley

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop

and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good

thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it

which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what

it was called.

—A. A. Milne, THE HOUSE ON POOH CORNER

Aworld-renowned psychiatrist once posed a question to a room full of mental health experts. He asked, “What is the ‘seat belt’ of mental health?” Seat belts save lives; buckling up is a simple thing to do to protect ourselves from physical harm. What is the comparable tool to protect us from the mental hazards of life? What is the seat belt to protect against unhappiness, depression, anxiety, pain, and suffering? Mindfulness may be the mental “seat belt” that protects us along the bumpy, twisting, turning road of life, whether we encounter unexpected drop-offs, terrible accidents, or smooth sailing.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “mindful” as “inclined to be aware,” and “awareness” as “vigilance in observing what one experiences.” Synonyms for “awareness” include “awake,” “watchful,” “wary,” “cognizant,” and “conscious.” So mindful awareness (a synonym for mindfulness) means to be “aware of awareness,” an idea that implies an awareness of self and a capacity to reflect, a definition closely associated with self-consciousness.1 An expert mindfulness teacher, Henepola Gunaratana, describes mindfulness as follows:

“When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you identify it . . . before you start thinking about it . . . before your mind says, ‘Oh, it’s a dog.’ . . . That flowing soft-focused moment of pure awareness is mindfulness.”2 A mindful mental state differs from being lost in thoughts of the past or future or acting on “autopilot.” To “practice mindfulness” is to exercise or work on honing this state of mind. We all probably agree that that sounds like a good idea; after all, who wants to be unaware or unconscious of their own experiences? Yet, as we will see, con­sciousness is pretty elusive and difficult to define scientifically, and it changes all the time. We think we know something one day only to discover that what we thought we knew was not quite right. We constantly “wake up” to knowl­edge, shifting from ignorance to awareness. What we are conscious of changes constantly.

This chapter explores the science of mindfulness, including how it is de­fined and measured, how it can be both a state and a trait, and how it works as a tool for self-regulation. We then turn to the practicalities of mindful­ness to understand how it functions in our lives so that we can begin to cul­tivate it.

THE SCIENCE

We are still at the beginning of understanding mindfulness from a scientific perspective. Over the last twenty years, there has been an exponential in­crease in research on mindfulness, from some eighty published papers in 1990 to over six hundred in 2000.3 Yet compared to other behaviors that are known to improve physical or mental health, such as diet and exercise, there is relatively little research on mindfulness. For example, a search of PubMed, the electronic library of biomedical research, using the keywords “mindful­ness meditation” or “mindfulness-based stress reduction” yields 492 articles, while a keyword search on “heart disease and exercise” offers 46,136 articles and “heart disease and diet” returns 15,042 articles. Research on mindful­ness is in its infancy.

There are two general types of research studies: studies that ask what mind fulness is and how to measure it, and studies that ask what benefits arise from practicing it. While the questions that scientists ask are probably no dif­ferent from yours, the difference lies in how they seek the answers. Science is a methodology that uses third-person observation, by which we mean that it is an objective process that yields comparable knowledge no matter who does it. In contrast, mindfulness is a first-person, or subjective, methodology, the observation of which is quite challenging. (Imagine how hard it would be to decide which of two people is more “aware.”) Putting mindfulness under the lens of science removes it from what it actually is—a subjective experience— yet in doing so we can gain an understanding of the shared elements of mind­fulness as reported by many people and the changes in brain and body states detectable by current technologies and specialties, such as functional mag­netic resonance imaging (fMRI), immunology, and genetics. Yet, no matter how well science describes mindfulness, it cannot capture the experience of it. Scientists can describe the chemical composition of an apple, its color, tex­ture, and taste, but no description matches the experience of biting into an apple. When we name mindfulness and measure it using the tools of science, we may want to remember that the name and the experience are not the same. This is why we look at mindfulness from the perspective of both science and art in this book—to truly understand mindfulness is to not only know about the science of it but also practice the art of it.

Mindfulness is like the Indian proverb about the six blind men trying to de­scribe an elephant: As each one touches a different part, he describes the ele­phant differently. If we look across the scientific literature, there are aspects of mindfulness described in research on creativity, intuition, self- awareness, in­sight, and positive psychology, to name only a few areas of focus. Yet to research mindfulness we must have a working definition and then ways to measure it objectively. The working definitions of mindfulness all include “an awareness or attention to present experience.” Added to this basic definition are certain qualifiers describing the kind of attention or awareness a person has (receptive, open) or his or her orientation during the experience (impartial, curious, non-judgmental, accepting).4 Beyond this definition, there are varied opinions as to what mindfulness represents. Some scientists consider mindfulness to be a cog­nitive ability, a capacity to think in a certain way; others consider it part of per­sonality, a disposition to respond to the world in a certain way; and still others consider it a cognitive style, a preferred way of thinking.5 All three of these con­cepts may describe some aspect of mindfulness; it does not appear to fall neatly into any one category. To know where it fits best requires investigation, and that requires a working definition and tools to measure it.

Measuring Mindfulness

Most measures of mindfulness use self-report questionnaires, which include items such as: “I pay attention to how my emotions affect my thoughts and behavior,” “I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing because I’m daydream­ing, worried, or otherwise distracted,” “I disapprove of myself when I have irrational ideas,”6 and, “It seems I am ‘running on automatic’ without much awareness of what I am doing.”7 Perusing those items, you can see that some describe attention, some describe a quality of observation, and some de­scribe a tendency to be highly critical. The items are scored in such a way that the more curious and attentive to present-moment experience (without criticism), the higher the mindfulness score. Perhaps the most consistent set of items across all the instruments to date have to do with attention itself: the ability to maintain attention to present-moment experience.

The questionnaires have good reliability, meaning that they are stable over time; a person’s score on the instrument could change because the per­son has changed, not because of the scale items. A reliable measure of weight, for instance, would be a doctor’s scale; a less reliable measure would be a friend’s estimation (perhaps a friend will always underestimate it). A measure with good validity is one that actually reflects the thing you want to measure. This is our central question here: How do we know how well the self-reports of mindfulness measure the construct of “mindfulness”?

There are currently no objective ways to measure mindfulness that we can use to compare and validate the self-report scales, yet, as we will see in later chapters, this is an area of active research. However, if practicing medi­tation increases mindfulness, we would expect to see a positive association between time spent in meditation and mindfulness scores; there is evidence to support this positive relationship, but only moderately.8 Self-report scales, currently the only instruments of measuring mindfulness, may be a serious limitation. Perhaps the more mindful you think you are, the less insight you really have into your own mindfulness! That’s not too hard to believe. By analogy, consider a piano tuner and a piano that is slightly out of tune. A minor departure from perfect tone noticed by the tuner might be unde­tectable to you or me. Indeed, we would probably describe the piano very differently: What the piano tuner says is out of tune you and I might find to be very well in tune. Perhaps the more mindful you are, the greater is your ability to detect subtle deviations from present-moment attention compared to the abilities of a less well-trained, less mindful individual.  

Thus, it may be that self-reports are useful only up to a point and that they fail to reflect the most mindful among us. Alternative methods of mea­suring mindfulness are needed, such as the physiological markers that are as­sociated with mindful states, including brain, body, or even gene expression patterns. Although research is beginning to uncover biological correlates of mindfulness, as you will see throughout this book, none are as yet used as direct measures of mindfulness.

Mindfulness as a Trait

In the last ten years of research on mindfulness, there has been an increasing understanding that mindfulness has the qualities of both a trait and a state. A trait is a feature by which individuals differ owing to genes and environ­ment, and it is relatively stable over time; a state is a temporary biological or psychological feature that may be induced but does not persist over time.9 Your eye color is a trait, but using colored contact lenses changes the state of your eye color.

Even with little or no formal meditation training, people differ greatly in their self-reports of mindfulness. Are some of us genetically destined to be monks, contemplatives, or other mindfulness “experts”? Studies of mindful­ness as a trait are just beginning, but preliminary findings suggest that differ­ences reflect biological variation and are probably influenced in part by our inherited genetic blueprints. For example, David Creswell, a psychologist at Car negie Mellon, and his colleagues demonstrated that people who vary in trait mindfulness also vary in the brain activity associated with how well we regulate our emotions (the more mindful the greater the ability to regulate emotion).10 Others have found comparable associations with attention regu­lation (the more mindful, or the more hours of mindfulness practice, the greater the attention regulation).11 Taken together, these findings show that mindfulness may reflect differences in self-regulation as a whole, a trait known to vary in the population and to have genetic causes.12

 Excerpted from Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness

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