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What is Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness came to prominence in the West during the 2000s, since then it has become a fad and the more people that tried to jump on the bandwagon the more it morphed to become something completely different from its origins. Today people expect that mindfulness is a “cure all” solution to reduce stress, improve mental health, regulate emotions and even become a type of therapy. 

In this article we are going to explore the origin of Mindfulness in its relevant cultural context, we are going to understand the mechanics and the reasons why it works as well as what it cannot do, stripped of all the marketing and sales talk. Finally I will suggest some exercises that can help train you to actually experience the state of mindfulness.

So what really is Mindfulness?

The concept of mindfulness can be traced back to an ancient civilization which occupied the territory that is today the border between India and Pakistan over 5000 years ago. Harappans, Dravidians, Indus Valley Civilisation are just a few of the names given to these people. Many philosophies and concepts of this civilisation proved so good that they were adopted into Hinduism and later into its offshoots such as Buddhism. 

Within this context what we now know in modern times as mindfulness was called dháraná – a sanskrit term that translates as concentration. The oldest written text to explain this term can be found in a book that is thought to have been written in the 3rd Century BCE by an author named Pátañjali, although other references can be dated from much earlier. 

In its inception dháraná, mindfulness, was seen as a fundamental step to allow a practitioner to achieve a higher state of consciousness called dhyána, or meditation.

In this original text, the practitioner would experience different techniques and just before experiencing dháraná they would focus on breathing techniques (pránáyáma). This technique would unveil lucidity (II-52 Pátañjali’s Yôga Sútra) and make the mind apt for mental concentration (dháraná) (II-53).

The concept of dháraná, therefore, describes a state of consciousness where the individual is fully focused and concentrated on the present moment, on the moment of existence. This is a state which is easy to attain and everyone experiences it with relative ease. However, our modern lives, full of distractions, stress and stimulus make it more challenging to experience mindfulness. 

A state of mental concentration is one in which the individual is aware of themselves and of the moment they exist. For example, this can happen when you slip on ice on the road, or experience a near collision with your bike, and time seems to slow down, your senses are on overdrive, and an intense moment is experienced. But we do not need such “accidents” to experience this state of mind. You can experience it when you brush your teeth, when you eat, when you take a walk, whenever you want. 

What is Mindfulness good for?

Mindfulness is a tool. Much like a hammer can be used in many different ways, so can mindfulness. Moreover, as our civilisation moves forwards people may try to use the tool in different ways, or worse, market it as a multi-tool that can do anything just because it is a trending topic. Some people will try to adapt this tool for therapy or for curing illness – in fact this is a common marketing ploy: “selling cures”.

The approach of the DeRose Method is to avoid trends and focus on teaching. This is possibly why you may have never heard of our work, while others focus on marketing and selling, we have focused on depth of content and quality. We have been operating since 1960, our work is about teaching individuals tools for enhancing their performance and wellbeing.

DeRose Mindfulness

Mental concentration, dháraná, mindfulness, is amazing for many reasons and can produce amazing effects. However it is important to temper expectations. It is a skill, therefore you can experience mindfulness training and become better and better at executing this technique whenever you want. It is something you learn, train and perfect to have as a skill you can use at any moment you wish in your life. 

  • When your mind is concentrated you are more productive. 
  • When your mind is concentrated you can gain perspective.
  • When your mind is concentrated you can take a break from the daily noise, distractions and mental pollution of modern living acting like a reset. 

The DeRose approach is to teach its students how to do the technique, train them on the execution and focus on how this technique can make all of life better. 

Mindfulness training

In his book, Meditation and Self Knowledge, Prof DeRose offers the reader over 60 mindfulness and meditation exercises. Here I would like to share with you 5 exercises for mindfulness: 

In addition to concentration, these exercises can also be used to develop your capacity to mentalize shapes and colors. You should practice daily just one of the modalities, even if you consider these exercises to be very easy. Do not succumb to the desire to practice more than one modality per day. Instead, invest time using the same technique for longer.

  1. Sit, close your eyes and visualise a triangle. Do not let your thoughts diverge. For one minute, maintain a clear image of the triangle, without interference. On the next day, do the same, but for two minutes. Continue increasing, one minute per day, until you reach twenty minutes. Only then move to a more advanced exercise.
  2. Visualise a hexagram, add a colour. A very positive color is sky blue. Give preference to colder colours (although there are exceptions). Follow the progression of the previous exercise. Change colours and increase one minute per day, until you reach twenty minutes. Only then, continue on to the third exercise.
  3. Mentalise a pentagram, add a background colour. For example, a violet pentagram over an orange background. Then, change the fore-ground and the background colours.
  4. Visualise a golden circle on a light green background. Add a slow pendular movement. Substitute the colours.
  5. Mentally count upwards from 1, visualising the numbers until you lose concentration. Increasing your limit daily until you have reached around twenty minutes in this exercise.

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Fabs Martins

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