One of the best things to have happened to me in the last six months is discovering "mindfulness". I'm only a few decades late to the party, but so glad to have finally found it. It's hard to exaggerate the benefits I've experienced from just a few minutes of guided mindfulness therapy - and published research suggests this is not uncommon. I had my first taste of mindfulness therapy at London's Dragon Cafe. Their free (and hugely popular) "Mind Works" course was an incredible introduction, both to the science and the practice of mindfulness.
In short, it is a deliberate awareness of and focusing on the present moment in time: sitting on the chair, eating, breathing, moving, whatever the exercise may involve. The key is lack of judgement: when the mind naturally wanders back to our anxieties, we forgive it and simply bring it back to the present moment. It is a form of meditation, but without necessarily involving any deep breathing or chanting or yoga mats. There is a huge literature out there, but for an easy introduction to mindfulness, I would heartily recommend the "The Little Book of Mindfulness" by Dr Patrizia Collard.
I think, in centuries past, mindfulness happened in humans as a matter of course: hunting for food, surviving, invoking rituals and praying to the unseen forces of nature that governed existence. I'm guessing that our hunter-gathering ancestors had little time to worry about the past or fret about the future. They lived solely in the here-and-now, doing the necessary to sustain life. Modern life has become easier and easier to survive. But, perversely, we have more and more time and inclination to worry. Without needing to think where our next meal is coming from, or if our babies will survive the cold night, our minds have free rein to worry and stress and fret as they will.
For someone prone to depression and anxiety there is no shortage of worry-fodder. Working my way through a series of graduate jobs, for example, I spent my twenties agonising that I was a terrible employee and it could only be a matter of time before I was discovered to be an intellectual and professional fraud. The anxiety was crippling: unable to think clearly or communicate with anyone, unable to make even simple decisions, and ultimately unable to function.
And throughout all this anxiety ran a deep seam of self loathing. There's a roof over my head, food on the table and a loving family. What had I to be stressed about? Why couldn't I enjoy life's simple pleasures (and there were many) without constant anxiety about the past or the future?
I'm no expert, but I'm starting to think that our modern life is partly to blame. We have so many things vying for our attention, so many competing demands, it is hard to find the pleasure to be had right in front of our noses.
Unlike our ancestors, who focussed on the present out of sheer necessity, we have to carve out time and learn how to be mindful. And we need to be kinder to ourselves when we don't always get it right. Mindfulness, when practiced properly (which generally means being guided through it by a qualified practitioner), ultimately leads to increased self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Which in turn leads to increased gratitude and compassion for others.
Do check it out if you can!
If you're lucky enough to be able to get to The Dragon Cafe: http://dragoncafe.co.uk/?attachment_id=3903