By Robert L. Moore, MD, MPH, MBA, Chief Medical Officer
In spite of this, many health care professionals and patients have difficulty fully embracing mindfulness as a therapy or practice, long term. Many authors have commented on this, with myriad different explanations and analyses. (For example, this essay contrasts mindfulness with psychotherapy.) Here are some underlying beliefs that may contribute:
- Mental illness and experiencing stress are signs of personal weakness to be covered-up or suppressed, instead of understood and addressed.
- The mind and body are separate. Those who strongly believe this cannot believe that trying to use their mind to make their body feel better or function better.
- Mindfulness takes too much time. Individuals who believe that mindfulness is helpful may conclude that it takes too much time to practice mindfulness regularly. Does one really need to go on a two-week meditation retreat to get into a better state of mind?
- Mindfulness equals deep breathing and meditation. Is breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth repeatedly always the best way to re-focus the mind?
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley embraces a broader conceptualization of mindfulness. Each person is encouraged to try different methods of becoming more mindful (using a broader understanding of mindfulness than its meditative Buddhist roots), finding a method that resonates especially with their personality and beliefs.
The Center performs original research to further the evidence base on different practices, which looks at the concept of micro-dosing mindfulness: spending very short periods of time several times per day to experience a sense of awe about something in your environment, and sharing this with your friends and family. This might be something beautiful, like a flower, a pet, a story or a piece of music. It might be something more intricate and complex, like a well-engineered race car, an innovative food dish, a piece of sculpture, a formal ceremony, or a novel gadget. Whatever it is, you should focus on it for a moment at the exclusion of all else, appreciating some of the intricacies and details, experience a sense of awe, and then perhaps share the details of the experience briefly with someone in your life. For example, take a picture of it with your phone and share it with a brief description of why it affected you!
This last step, the sharing, is critical for making this mindfulness practice not just a method to reduce stress but to increase happiness. Sharing strengthens interpersonal connection, especially important in this time of physical distancing. Interpersonal connections are necessary (but not sufficient) for a person to be happy, according to neuroscientist and author Laurie Santos.
Of course, when our friends, family, colleagues or patients share something that gave them a sense of awe, we should pause, give our attention to what is being shared, reflect back what we have heard, and allow ourselves to share some of that awe.