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Let us talk about mindfulness, attention devoid of judgment, elaboration

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Life constantly demands our attention, but when we become fixated on the past or worried about the future, we often miss vital information in our present situations. Cultivating a state where you are consistently aware of your present moment is not impossible, but it takes practice. Nevertheless, by learning to abide in the present, you acquire a sense of perspective that can allow you to learn from the past without it overwhelming you with resentment and regret, and plan for the future without it overwhelming you with anxiety or dejection.

What Is Mindfulness?
People often confuse the concept of mindfulness with the idea that one should “stop and smell the roses.” However, if you found yourself with your nose stuck deep into a flower in a field where an angry bull was bearing down on you, this would be the exact opposite of being mindful. Put simply, mindfulness is a state of mind where you are fully conscious and engaged in the present moment and with the demands of the present moment. In our Nigerian culture filled with the hustle and bustle of ordinary life issues like horrendous traffic, lack of sustained electricity, safety, etc. one could say that mindfulness is not for our people. Most cultures and religions teach mindfulness – Christians call it meditation and the Quran encourages silent encounters.

Mindfulness studies in mental health tend to require two components:
•A quality of high attentiveness and concentration
•An attitude of curiosity and openness.

If mindfulness means avoiding distraction, what is it that distracts us from the present? People are constantly besieged with needs. Our basic needs such as food and shelter, and our more complicated needs for love, respect, happiness, and so on all compel us to consider our past and future in terms of what to avoid and what to seek after. Consequently, the tempting answer is to blame all the things going on in our world as the source of distraction. Instead of everything that goes on “out there” being the source of distraction, we should learn to find peace within. However, most of voices have a mental chatter that is negative and incessant. Sometimes internal mental chatter can be helpful for working out problems, for analysis, and even for play. However constant mental chatter can also distract us from the things that are most important. And often, it can actually mislead us into misunderstanding a given situation. Here are some mindfulness techniques:

Bare Attention
One aspect of mindfulness is the cultivation of bare attention. Bare attention is attention that is devoid of judgment or elaboration. Whenever we are faced with a new situation, we are tempted to try and consider what this new situation means to us. Will it be pleasant, scary, long lasting, or of minor importance? More often than not, we do not have enough information yet to make that assessment.
When we start attempting to evaluate the situation before it has played out, this takes us into monkey mind style thinking, which often leads to distortion. One component of being mindful is to approach any present moment with our full and neutral attention.

Another way of thinking of bare attention is in the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Being a beginner is an ideal state because someone with no experience of something will also have developed no prejudice against it or other ways of placing limits on an experience. Since every moment of your life is unique, approaching each moment with innocence, as if you are a beginner and this is your first time experiencing this moment, allows you to keep yourself open to a host of possibilities that a more experienced person would either ignore or never consider.

Memory
To this point, we have focused on just one aspect of mindfulness, that of bare attention in the immediate moment. However, as mentioned earlier, another translation of the word sati is memory, and there is a very good reason for this. Paying close attention to your immediate moment and environment sounds like a beneficial practice, and for the most part it is. However, there are times where paying too much attention can be detrimental and force you into mistakes. If you have ever been told or told someone else not to over-think a situation, this is a good example where bare attention can be detrimental. In fact, a recent study has found that a mindful state can be detrimental for certain kinds of learning.

When you learn to ride a bicycle, for example, you pay less attention about the process and feel of yourself pedaling. Instead, much of the learning occurs subconsciously in what is known as muscle memory. Muscle memory is one example of a special kind of memory called implicit memory. This type of memory occurs through practice. For musicians who read music, for example, at a certain point in practice, they no longer consciously think about what the squiggles on the page actually mean. In fact, reading in general relies primarily on implicit memory. If you tried to be really mindful of what you were reading, by focusing on the shape of each letter or the makeup of each sentence, you would likely miss the overall meaning of a written passage, and it would take a long time to do it.

Mindfulness is helpful in tasks that make use of another kind of memory called explicit memory. This type of memory is helpful in learning new things and in memorization. However, when you wish to develop a habit, the combination of mindfulness when you are consciously willing yourself to do or notice something and scaling back your awareness as you allow the new task to be taken up in your unconscious mind through implicit memory is the ideal way to go.

For example, Mr. Ajai hated it whenever another driver cut him off. Usually he would get angry and without thinking about it, Mr. Ajayi would start honking his horn, flash his bright headlights, and drive up extremely close on the offending driver. Recently, Mr. Ajayi had begun to practice mindfulness. One day an elderly person in a flashy car cut him off. For a split second he recognized how his thoughts had become angry and fearful at this point. Instead of reacting like he normally does, Mr. Ajayi decided instead to slow down and give the other driver a wide berth. He figured the other driver probably had not seen him, so he should change lanes and, as quickly as possible, get around the other driver, who may not be paying enough attention.

Finally, mindfulness is a natural state of being. Throughout our lives we are frequently in this state without realizing it. If you have ever heard a noise at night and went to investigate, the level of attention that you bring to that situation is a good example of being mindful. However, we frequently divide our attention and, by necessity, we will selectively ignore aspects of our environment. When watching a sporting event on television, for example, a particularly enrapt fan might tune out conversation that is occurring around him or her in order to pay closer attention to the game. If the sports fanatics in this scenario consciously thought about paying attention to the conversations around them rather than the game on television, they could. In this sense, mindfulness is a mental skill that you can develop through practice.


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