Mindfulness has become almost a buzz-word. But what is it, really? Using knowledge from her recent Masters Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University and her signature humour, Ruby Wax explains why learning to pay attention is important.
Attention is like a spotlight and what it illuminates streams into your mind, so developing control over it is the most powerful way to shape your brain.
I can hear you say, ‘What’s with attention? I pay it when I cross the street.’ No, for most of us, we are there physically but our attention could be in Sri Lanka. We don’t naturally pay attention, we have to learn it (a glitch in evolutionary development). The tragedy of most of our lives is that we’re asleep at the wheel and no one tells us how to wake up. They say to kids at school, ‘Pay attention’. How would they know how to do that? No one teaches them.
Scientists now have the technology to be able to trace what people’s eyes focus on when they scan a room. Who or what an individual seeks out is based on genes, chemicals, culture, relationships and experience. What your eyes fasten onto is where your mind is in any one moment. Some people enter a room and zoom in on a daddy figure (nice but not sexy) or a sugar daddy (same, but with expensive shoes).
We become the character we are at any particular moment depending on what we focus on. On the golf course, swinging the club, you’re a sportswoman. In bed in your nightie, you might be a sex kitten. With your kids you may be Mother Goose. (God help you if you ever get these roles confused.) These identities are all transitory; they come and go depending on which metaphorical clothes you wear and for what occasion.
The skill required to tame your mind is to be able to inhibit your attention on certain things and intentionally take your focus to others. This is self-regulation, becoming the captain of the ship, steering your attention where you want it to be. An expert at self-regulation would be able to stay calm even in the face of my mother during one of her episodes. Mindfulness helps me tame the thoughts that flutter around my brain like moths on cocaine. I'll be talking about the brain and mindfulness in Sane New World, part of the Troublemakers? series.
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