|Patricia Lindholm, MD,|
Immediate Past MMA President
Mindfulness is a practice of being present in the here and now, fully aware of the moment in which we live. This concept is at least as old as Buddhism which teaches among other things that we should be awake while we live.
Essentially I usually live in my head. My thoughts come and go and take me away as if on a train. While I am on the thought-train reality is present all around me and I am not aware of it. I may be driving to work and not even noticing the landscape around me, rather I am in my own imaginary world. When I spend time living in my thoughts the passage of time is not noticed until I awaken to it.
I am pleased to see that psychology and other mental health disciplines have been using mindfulness practice in the treatment of anxiety, depression and other affective disorders. Being mindful of the present is a therapeutic alternative to preoccupation with worries and negative thoughts. Even suicidal thinking can be derailed by a purposeful attention to my breath in the present moment. Rather than ruminate on a vicious cycle of self-criticism, I can choose to acknowledge that in this present moment I am alive and can appreciate the song of a bird or the beauty of a sunset. I can feel the air enter and leave my lungs, smell the fragrance of clean laundry.
During the day in my clinic I have learned to treasure the moments that I am with each patient. If I am mindful during these encounters I can realize the joy in my work. I am learning to be present for a greater proportion of my day. I frequently find myself pausing deliberately to take a slow conscious breath and remember that I live only in the present moment. I am striving to increase my mindfulness practice and capture as many of my moments as possible.
If you are interested in mindfulness practice I recommend the books of Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, and others who have been teaching mindfulness for many years. I would also recommend enrolling in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course such as offered by the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing.