Mindfulness: Hocus Pocus or Renewed Focus?

Way back on the 1st February this year, I despatched this prediction via Twitter, meaning that mindfulness is set to become mainstream during 2012.

maarqConsult Tweet 1 Feb 2012 - Mindfulness Prediction

I stand by it.

So what is mindfulness?
My favourite description is this from Ruth Baer: “The non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise.”[1]

<a name=""> What does that mean? Do you have to be surrounded by burning scented candles, in a dark quiet place or high up on a mountain in a temple refraining from speech to be mindful? Well no, it’s rather a state of mind than a state of being. But by doing so, it can help you to become more self-aware, to be in the present, to be more in direct contact with the world. [2]

The past summers I’ve spent my time in direct contact with the underwater world and after numerous random meetings face to face with these creatures, which resulted in either rapid ascent to the surface or near total loss of nerve, I wanted to change all that.

Eagle Ray, Port Phillip Bay, VIC
“Eagle Ray, Port Phillip Bay, VIC”


Then this video came across my desktop and exhibited the experience really sought.

Video: “Guillaume Nery base jumping (freediving) at Dean’s Blue Hole”

Maybe, you too are seeking a way of managing distractions or reducing mental clutter. Picture your mind as running multiple internet browser sessions or tabs, then imagine minimising or sending all those sessions to the task bar. They’re still operating, reduced to an icon or indicator, you’re totally aware of them, but now you can focus with unbridled fervour on the immediate task, thought or activity in front of you.

Think of it like the CNN news on TV, the Presenters are speaking but there is also a ticker tape running along the bottom of the screen, you can choose to engage with the information in that ticker tape, you can ignore it, or you can be aware that it’s there and have full engagement watching the Presenter.

This is mindfulness in operation.

Say you’re riding your bike in a large bunch or peloton of cyclists at 50kph, mindfulness is being aware of your position on the bike, position in the bunch, the effort you’re expending to stay part of the bunch, it is also being aware that someone is passing by your right shoulder (or left) and moving up towards the front of the bunch. There’s a lot going on. Now add in your thoughts about improving your position in the bunch and what you’re going to do to execute it. To act safely for the other riders, you must be mindful or aware of all these factors, but at any one time not giving all of them your fullest attention. Most are running in the task bar…

Cyclists on Beach Rd, Elwood, VIC

So, real life mindfulness, you’re onto it.

Now, take yourself away from these discrete, comfortable, potentially familiar instances. Put yourself into a new environment, somewhere that is incredibly uncomfortable, not your preference or ideal. Maybe it’s swimming 10m underwater with just a mask and snorkel whilst holding your breath. Perhaps it’s in a crowded bar full of inebriated patrons. Or, you’re about to deliver a keynote presentation to an audience. 

The test is can you become settled and maintain full awareness whilst also utilising the raw energy or rush of adrenaline that builds up or hits you in this state of unknown. What can you do during this phase to maintain composure and not be upset by a random event. A stingray brushes past, your Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie approaches you for a chat, or a heckler in the audience wants to disrupt your well-rehearsed verbal gift.

Here’s potentially one way, let’s call it neural switching.

It may help accelerate competency if you’ve already got an understanding, if not a practice, in yoga or meditation, but it is not essential. The results will develop in any case, performance potential determined only by affiliation and connection with the practice.

To enhance my learning and adaptation (and general fitness!), I engaged the services of professionals in this space to create a structured program under which progress would be more readily tracked and traced.

The fun bits!
In the beginning… there were plates, plastic picnic plates. Here’s an indicative video to illustrate the type of movement:

Video: “Neuralign – Plate Drills (Metabolic Acceleration)”

The task was to undertake 1 minute of strenuous high-intensity activity. Cue the sprint starts on plastic plates (possibly the cheapest gym apparatus available ever). Perform 1 minute at maximum output, these look simple enough, but well, are not. Then as your heart rate reaches maximum, lactic acid is pouring through your veins, your chest is heaving, you then stop, and proceed to enter your focused, mindful non-judgemental observational state. A state of calm. This is the neural switch. 

Then, repeat three times. [3]

A lot happens during these phases, your body is in high discomfort physically, your mind seeks to end the discomfort, telling you to stop the exercise or to keep pushing or a combination of both. There can be a lot of mental chatter, questions pop up “why am I doing this” etc. 

As competency develops however, the chatter is reduced to the task bar, it’s there and can be engaged at any time, similarly the level of focus on breathing, on exercise form, on execution is also heightened, it’s your choice which. Then, in the ‘rest’ phase, the awareness of your physical recovery, your mental chatter levels and your overall presence, aka mindfulness, is more rapidly entered and a feeling of being centred and grounded envelops you.

So how does this apply to Brad, Angelina, your heckler and/or the stingray? 

Your ability to maintain that grounded, centred platform despite the stimuli or inputs in your environment enable a far greater opportunity to maintain focus. Your ability to engage with the services running in your task bar are optimised, as is your ability to switch into an absolute state of focus. You can see the ticker tape, engage with the Presenter and stay completely focused on your task. It’s not just in that dark room or surrounded by scented candles, it’s anywhere and anytime. That’s big.

It’ll rock your world in a way that you’ve likely not experienced before and if you’re lucky you may never be the same again.

Some might call it being in ‘flow’, and it is, the difference is, it’s become your choice.

Have you made yours?

Black Rock, Port Phillip Bay, VIC

References:
1. 
http://www.actmindfully.com.au/index.asp?pageID=41 “Definitions of Mindfulness”
2. 
http://www.actmindfully.com.au/index.asp?pageID=41 “The Benefits of Mindfulness”
3. 
http://www.neuralign.com.au/LIVE/N_overview.html “The Neuralign System”

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