In the Present Moment: Mindfulness and Eastern Psychology

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

For some of us, the word mindfulness summons images of barefooted monks in dark red robes. For others, it may be a reminder of a meditation session offered during the lunch break in the board room of their company.  For those who have been practicing for a while it means an attitude of open, non-judgmental attention to the external and internal worlds and a sense of equanimity.

Mindfulness is no longer an exotic practice. For more than three decades, mindfulness has been researched and applied in the medical field, educational systems, judicial systems and, at an increasing pace, in the corporate world. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center are now being taught at clinics across the world and benefit thousands of patients. There is a growing body of empirical evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness in decreasing anxiety and depression, in helping people coping
with chronic pain, and in reducing symptoms in various clinical populations. Research coming from Richard Davidson’s lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, show that after only eight weeks of practice, there are significant changes in the brain activity of a healthy practitioner. These changes are consistent with improving the ability to focus, improved emotion regulation, lessened reactions to stressors, and increased empathy.  People
report an overall increased sense of well-being and happiness.

Recently, mindfulness has entered the vocabulary of the corporate world.  Mindfulness training is being offered to employees of companies such as Google, Apple, IBM, General Motors, to name just a few. Why should companies invest in training resources on employee time? Research on mindfulness training in the work place has shown that after several weeks of practice there is an increase in job performance and job satisfaction. Employees report an increased capacity of dealing with stressful situations and having better relations with co-workers and supervisors. Global assessments indicate increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and greater creativity.

How are all these positive effects achieved? It starts simply with slowing down and focusing on your breathing, in and out. Thoughts may come and go, but gradually you will learn not to cling to any train of thought, not to create stories and scenarios, but to see reality as is. I passed John on the corridor and he did not smile at me. I’m sure it is because I did not reply to his e-mail in time. But doesn’t he know how busy I am? He is so unfair! This makes me really mad! ... Oh wait, was he wearing his glasses? Where was I? Breathe in, breathe out. John is a good friend after all. And so on. We sometimes live our lives on automatic pilot. Getting to the store and not knowing why we are there, or driving back home and realizing we have not noticed anything for the past half hour, sound familiar? Since you’ve been reading this have you noticed your position in the chair? Do your feet touch the ground? Is it warm or cold in the room? Did you just sigh? Yes, we rarely stop during the day just to check if we are really there, fully. Training in mindfulness does just that, it helps us come back to the present moment, to be fully engaged in our lives. It helps us perceive the world with fewer filters.

From Wisconsin-Madison pre-schools and elementary schools, to Yale Law School and Harvard Business School, mindfulness has become an integral part of the educational curriculum.  In keeping the pace with this global movement in education, the Psychology department at UNYP is delighted to offer the first academic course on Mindfulness and Eastern Psychology in the Czech Republic.  The course is also available through our corporate affairs office for business people who wish embark on a journey of becoming more present in their own lives!

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