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All in the mindfulness

10 October 2016

Mindfulness can be seen as a trendy concept. It can be found on every magazine cover and has even been dubbed ‘McMindfulness’. However, it can also be seen as an ancient wisdom for a modern world and certainly helpful in educational settings. Definitions vary but broadly it is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment. This is a simple concept but incredibly difficult to achieve and sustain. No longer an activity reserved for the few; the public and education is looking to mindfulness as an antidote to stress and burnout, technology addiction and digital distractions, and a sense of constant busyness. There are clear advantages for those of us working in colleges to building the concept of “being present” into our daily practice. In our colleges we witness a range of emotion, both good and bad. We see anger, envy, worry and doubt. We see our colleagues and students hanging onto these emotions long after the moment has passed. They may have been real at the time but sometimes they begin to get in the way of the present feelings and present moment – and therefore, present decisions. What does it really mean to be a mindful person — and what do they do differently every day to live more mindfully? It is the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment. It’s most commonly practiced through meditation. Meditation, has been shown to be a highly effective intervention for managing emotional challenges including anxiety, depression and stress. Recent studies found that people with mindful personalities enjoy greater emotional stability and improved sleep. There are lots of free resources to help such as the app ‘Headspace’ or online at The Oxford Mindfulness Centre. Although being mindful does not necessarily require a meditation practice. As Sylvia Boorstein, a great mindfulness teacher said: “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without clinging to it or rejecting it.” In mindfulness we do not have to try to switch off our minds but the opposite. The more fully aware then the more skilful we become in working in the space between stimulus and response. Victor Frankl said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies growth and our freedom”. The more we can practice to operate in this space the more improved our decision making as college leaders and teachers. There is a misplaced mysticism around mindfulness. It isn’t just something you practice during a 10-minute morning meditation session. It can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you’re performing them. Mindfulness certainly isn’t about being happy all the time. It’s about acceptance of the moment we’re in and feeling whatever we feel without trying to resist or control it. Mindfulness starts to get more effective when we can start to integrate it into everyday life. And if you can do it sitting on a chair, then why not while walking between meetings, drinking a morning cup of tea, eating your lunchtime sandwich, working at the computer or having a chat with a colleague? All of these are opportunities to apply mindfulness and be more present and mindful. My own approach rests in a short morning meditation, trying to be more present in meetings, taking the occasional two or three minutes of focused breathing between tasks but also in solvitur ambulando-“it is solved by walking.” For me I know that simply going for a ten-minute quiet walk around the campus reconnecting with students and staff can be excellent way to calm the mind, gain new perspective and improve awareness. As someone once said “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” Stuart Rimmer is the Principal/CEO of Great Yarmouth College.