The four youngsters sitting next to me in the coffee shop were heavily engaged in conversation – but not with each other. They were tapping out text messages to invisible companions on their smartphones. Does that sound familiar?
A certain teenager I know can’t watch TV without his laptop and iPod close at hand. On crowded streets, tickets for distracted driving are being handed out like popcorn at the movies.
Even here on the far west coast, immersed in our natural ocean and forest splendour, we are prey to the pervasive forces of today’s multi-tasking society. If you’re not living in the moment, life in Tofino can feel a lot like life in Toronto.
What can we do to ease the mental congestion? The key to living in the moment begins with an introduction to a system developed in 1979 by MIT-educated scientist John Kabat-Zinn. The techniques of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction are emerging as a way to help bring much-needed focus to our increasingly pixellating society.
Much of mindfulness simply involves erasing the distractions and noise around us so that we can concentrate on what we’re feeling or doing. My approach, both from a personal standpoint and in my role as a professional consultant to the spa/wellness industry, is to examine how we can use our senses to live in and enjoy the here and now, and ultimately experience greater peace and happiness.
Recent neuroscientific studies reveal that ongoing stress reduction and mindfulness therapies can actually rewire people’s brains to become less anxious, happier, more focused and even more creative. According to research by a well-known advisor to the spa industry, Spafinder® Wellness 365, a particularly hot topic area around mindfulness is neuroplasticity – altering brain patterns. The company’s Trends Reports say spas and fitness centres that have until now focused almost exclusively on physical wellness have begun creating opportunities in mental wellness (though, of course, the two are always intertwined). To build stronger relationships with their clientele, spas are beginning to provide tools to help clients feel, think and act better, and even give their lives deeper meaning.
“Mindfulness is one of the biggest movements the wellness industry has ever seen,” says Spafinder. “People are craving (and needing) a reboot of their brains – and the reasons are plentiful. Mindfulness gives us an effective tool to cope with today’s highly stressed-out world.”
In his keynote speech at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit, the Dalai Lama himself said: “A healthy mind is the true key to happiness. We spend so much energy on physical health and hygiene – but we need to spend more on mental hygiene and the ‘hygiene’ of emotion.”
One piece of research, says Spafinder, shows that an hour of yoga a week reduces stress levels in employees by a third, and cuts healthcare costs by an average of $2,000 a year. Other studies have linked mindfulness to improved sleep, emotional stability, better cognitive functions and increased productivity.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”— Henry David Thoreau
To give you an idea of how our senses can help put us on the road to greater mindfulness, let’s start with what is perhaps our most important sense – eyesight. Imagine yourself on Chesterman Beach at sunset, with a paprika sun radiating its intense sprinkles across the sky. Using the mindfulness approach, if we simply focus our attention on the present and invite what we see before us into our being, we can be transformed.
The awareness of the sight can be recalled as required, both to comprehend our actions on nature and as a portal of fortitude to garner strength and inspirational energy when needed. That experience on Chesterman Beach sunset can reinforce your mental fortress of calm and serenity today and for years to come.
“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” ― Rumi
What we see deeply affects our health, well-being and our ability to heal. Setting eyes on meaningful intentional beauty can serve an important purpose: viewing a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, carving, hand-blown glass, architectural innovation of west coast carpentry, a great film, performing arts, living wall, textiles and the natural world around us.
Why not fully digest the adoring gaze of your furry friend as he (or she) peeks around the corner to check out what you are up to? Why not savour your pet’s sigh of contentment as he or she relaxes in your lap by the fire?
Think of the healing power of merely seeing someone you love, and the love in their eyes as they see you.
Words cannot sufficiently capture the depth of emotion capable of being communicated through the eyes. Capture the sight of this moment in your mind and feel it in your heart.
“Your heart is able to see things that your eyes aren’t able to.” ― Kholoud Yasser.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and recall the face of someone you love. See their look as their gaze melts into the curvatures of your being. See and feel the tender touch of their fingers on your hand, their foot resting on yours, or their hand slipping effortlessly into your hand as you walk in silent comfort along the sand.
Or visualize the sights and sensations of sitting in your favourite place, feeling the gentle breeze of the salty sea on your face, recalling the sight of eagles soaring in the blue sky and the soft sand supporting you.
The power of recall explains how individuals can withstand tremendous adversity. This ability also holds the possibility of rekindling what it is we love about someone.
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin
Each moment we live, we can choose the courageous path of healing, or we can resort to the chill familiarity of fear. It is our conscious courageous choice that will make the difference of seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing and tasting the juicy joy of life.
Published in Tofino Time magazine, 2014