Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mindfulness without Meditating

This week's episode of On Being had a great conversation about mindfulness.  Many of us may hear the word "mindfulness" and think of long hours sitting on an uncomfortable floor meditating.  This show was not about that at all.

When I heard the introduction, I knew that I needed to pay closer attention to this show:  "Ellen Langer is a social psychologist who some have dubbed 'the mother of mindfulness.' But she defines mindfulness with counterintuitive simplicity: the simple act of actively noticing things - with a result of increased health, competence, and happiness. Her take on mindfulness has never involved contemplation or meditation or yoga. It comes straight out of her provocative, unconventional studies, which have been suggesting for decades what neuroscience is pointing at now: our experience of everything is formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. What makes a vacation a vacation is not only the change of scenery - but the fact that we let go of the mindless everyday illusion that we are in control."

However, the show did go on to analyze what we actually can control.  I was most intrigued by the experiment with 80 years olds--not the "80 is the new 60" kind of 80 year olds we have today, but the old-old.  The scientists set up a retreat where everything was designed to put the men in the mindset that they had 20 years earlier, to have them live as if they were just leaving their 50's.  Langer notes the results:  "So the first test of this was this, uh, study with, um, elderly men, where we’re going to put their mind in an earlier time. And, um, as a result of, uh, living in that environment in this retreat we had set up for a week, their hearing improved, their vision improved, uh, their memory improved, their strength improved. At the end of this, uh, they were evaluated by people who knew nothing about the study as looking significantly younger than comparison years."

I was also intrigued by her analysis of how we see the behaviors and beliefs of other people:  "I might see somebody else as — somebody might see somebody as rigid, but what they are is stable. And when you do this, you can sort of imagine how all sorts of interpersonal conflict falls by the wayside. Right? That all of the reasons you’re fighting with this person, or you dislike this person, whether it’s at home or at work, now you might have disliked them because they were so damned impulsive. But now you see they’re spontaneous. And so if it’s the case that now I see that the things that are happening to me are a function of my view of them, I needn’t be so afraid."

Many of the things that Langer points out are not brand new ideas to me.  But the conversation gave me great reminders of how I want to live mindfully and be more present, each and every day.
To read the transcript or to listen to the show, go here.

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