What mindfulness does is it helps us to step out and zoom out of that blurry mess. Our life becomes more focused. Our thoughts start to come together. We’re able to form a picture of our lives more clearly again.
The first reason why mindfulness can extend and build your capacity to be able to help others, taking on their stress, is because it helps us experience our stress differently.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a researcher from Massachusetts, and he was the first to westernize and secularize the practice of mindfulness, as it comes originally from Buddhist religious thought.
Over eight weeks, he had patients who dealt with chronic pain due to medical conditions practice mindfulness. And after the eight weeks, these patients reported a decrease in pain and a decrease in intensity of that chronicity of pain. That pain, in general, was not so front and center anymore.
Now, nothing changed in their medical condition, but their experience of pain did. In this ongoing study I’m a part of, I have created a six-week program that draws from Christian-based mindfulness practices. I’ve asked these students to listen to these modules that I’ve created, on their cellphones or their laptops, and report their levels of stress before and after this mindfulness program.
They reported lower levels of stress as well as increased levels of mindfulness state. Their thoughts were more centered and focused as a result of the mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness allows us to experience our stress differently. Things do not change. These students’ lives were still impacted by the academic pressures and their personal lives, but yet their experience of pain differed.
This leads me to my second reason why mindfulness can help you deal with stress: it helps you make better decisions.
When we’re assaulted with big situations where we need to carry the responsibilities of crises, or we need to just simply make a step in the right direction, mindfulness can clarify our thoughts. Instead of a jumbled mess, we can prioritize our values, we can integrate whole parts of ourselves and act in a way that is congruent with who we are.
Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio understands this very well. As a policymaker, he understands good policy requires a sharp mind and a warm heart. And in his work, he actually leads mindfulness practices on Capitol Hill.
Now just take a second and imagine that for a moment: Republicans and Democrats in the same room together in mindfulness bliss. It’s a neat picture and so needed in our times.
Congressman Ryan uses mindfulness, and he spoke to Anderson Cooper about this in a 60 Minutes episode and said it has helped him prevent himself from burning out, that the stress and the pace of policy making is intense, and it’s given him the ability to reach across the aisle and extend a hand to people that he doesn’t agree with in order to craft good policy, anticipating how those policies will play out in the day-to-day lives of people it will affect.
You see, mindfulness allows us to be more compassionate, to, instead of react, be more empathetic; instead of be in conflict, be more collaborative; instead of be self-centered, we’re more self-aware. These are the gifts of mindfulness.
And mindfulness builds compassion for others, and as we anticipate the needs of others, our decisions are not as focused on reaction, but we’re able to anticipate how those decisions play out, how they help or hinder the healing process for society or organization or for relationships.
So do me a favor and do this exercise with me for just a few moments so you can experience what I’m talking about.
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths in with me. Take your first breath in and fill your lungs to capacity. Imagine that this air is very clean and good and pure, and allow it to nourish your body, and exhale.
Take your second deep breath in, and allow that breath to travel through those tight parts of your body, maybe your gut or your shoulders or your neck areas, where it’s often tight. And relax. And exhale.
And on your third breath, do the same and assign your breath a color of purity. Allow that breath, again, to travel to those tight places, soothe those sore spots, take in that relaxation. Exhale.
Continue to breathe in this way as I talk to you. There’s nothing you need to do right now except to breathe. There’s nothing that is asked of you. There’s no task to be completed, except for you to simply just sit and breathe.
You can put all the to-do lists away. You can let go of the worries of the day. Just sit and breathe.
Thank you. You can open your eyes. I hope what this exercise showed you is just a little taste of what a mindfulness exercise could do for you, especially as you confront conflict or big situations or organizational places where you need to make big decisions.