By Lucy Draper-Clarke who has been awarded a doctorate in Mindfulness and Teacher Education at Wits, focusing on the stress experienced by student teachers. She now runs Heart Mind Consultancy leads regular retreats at the Tara Rokpa Centre and the Buddhist Retreat Centre. She is a Director of Mindfulness Africa and she teaches Mindful Yoga practices.
You may have noticed the word ‘mindfulness’ appearing on 702 radio and in media articles, of late. Time magazine devoted its front cover to the ‘Mindful Revolution’ and a Google scholar search will reveal thousands of academic articles. So, what is mindfulness, and why the recent explosion of interest?
Being mindful essentially means staying in the present moment. It sounds so simple but, in reality, is not easy at all. Although, mindfulness practices have formed the foundation of contemplative traditions for over two thousand years, it is the scientific research, using brain imaging techniques, that have established what meditators have long experienced – mindfulness changes the brain and our mind states.
Many people who develop a mindfulness practice report decreased levels of stress, improved focus, concentration and creativity, as well as relief from specific conditions such as chronic pain. However, it is not a quick fix solution. It is a new skill that takes time and commitment to cultivate.
Once you start looking, you’ll find references to mindfulness everywhere, but is it for you? What should you consider before joining a course? Here are four pointers:
1. What can you give up?
Beginning a mindfulness practice requires a significant commitment. It is not something you can add to your usual busy schedule. What are you prepared to give up in order to develop the mindfulness habit? Could you wake up 30 minutes earlier, or spend less time on your computer or phone? Or could you give up your TV time? If you cannot clear a 30-minute slot each day for yourself, then it is unlikely you will be able to benefit at a deeper level from the practices.
2. Which course or approach is right for you?
Typically, mindfulness training is run as an 8-week course (2 hours, once a week), in a group. You might prefer an introduction to mindfulness during a day course or weekend retreat. There are also 10-day and month-long meditation retreats at South African centres, but a general suggestion would be to start with an 8-week course, or weekend retreat and then to build up your experience. Like all new skills, you can put yourself off if you dive in too deep, too soon.
3. When might a course be unsuitable for you?
If you have recently been through a trauma, bereavement or significant life event, then you may feel too vulnerable to begin this training. It works best when you feel fairly stable, yet wish to start getting to know your inner mind chatter more intimately. After traumatic incidents, you may benefit more from “two cushion meditation”, by speaking to a psychotherapist, counsellor or trusted friend.
4. Which trainer is right for you?
Most important is to find someone who has been practising daily mindfulness for at least five years, and who has done some periods of retreat. If your trainer has an intimate knowledge and acceptance of their own mind and habit patterns, then they are more likely to be able to transmit those qualities during the training. Befriending our mind is one of the outcomes of a steady practice, so it is useful to train with someone that embodies these qualities
Mindfulness is transformative for many, but not everyone. Hopefully these few pointers can assist you to move mindfully into your inner world.
Some locally available courses:
MBSR (Kabat-Zinn) – Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
MBCT (Williams, Segal & Teasdale) – Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (designed specifically for people recovering from depression)
MBLC (Rob Nairn) – Mindfulness-based Living Course (including aspects of compassion)
There are also many books available online which can supplement your understanding, and may offer guidance for your specific needs.