Testing Out Mindfulness

Mindfulness is in. What began as a form of Buddhist meditation has now been picked up by the mainstream, with even the NHS recommending it as a treatment for mental health conditions. It seems like everyone and their gran is preaching the benefits of switching off and finding your inner peace. So qmunicate challenged 5 of our contributors to take a break from their stressful lives of lectures, essays and making the best magazine in Glasgow. Here they report back on the challenges and benefits of the latest craze in mental wellbeing.

I am a sucker for trying things like mindfulness. To be honest, it is more like: I really want to try them, but I never get around doing it. Therefore, when the pitch on mindfulness was proposed during one of the qmunicate meetings, I was beyond excited because I thought signing up to write an article about it would put more pressure on me to actually try it. Plus, if I got through the two weeks as arrange with Jessica, our editor, then I was very likely to continue with it further. That was the idea…

Wednesday was great. After I came back from the meeting, I immediately watched a lecture on mindfulness that a mindfulness expert from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Ron Siegel, gave at Google. Some interesting points and findings about “being aware of the present” were discussed during the talk, with my favourite being a study tending to show that “…if somebody was washing the dishes and were attending to the experience of washing the dishes, they reported more enhanced well-being than somebody who’s eating a gourmet meal or making love but thinking about other things.” – If there is a way I can get even remotely similar level of satisfaction by washing the dishes, as I would get from eating a nice meal or having sex, count me in!

Everything after that was less than great. Thursday, I came back from Uni all hyper about starting my path to finding true happiness in doing the dishes, and was ready to check out this app I had for ages, but had not yet used at that point. The app is called YOU.  It is partially free, meaning some features are free. You can select one of the self-care playlists and it gives you a small task each day. For this purpose I chose ‘Easy Mindfulness’.

The first problem I faced was simply how to start. Of course, there was a task written down in front of me: Focus on your breathing. But how does one do that – surely, it cannot be as mundane as taking in deep breaths with eyes closed.  If it were, we would all quickly be experts and enjoy doing the dishes. It seemed all too easy. I felt alone and lost regardless of the app; I simply wanted someone to be there and guide me, give me a more detailed instruction or answer my questions. Nevertheless, I did what I guessed was satisfactory and clicked “complete action” on my app. This is where my true troubles started.

After clicking on the “complete action” the app takes you to your camera, and you need to take a photo of what you are doing, of you “action”, in order for the task to be considered done. At first, I was annoyed at not knowing what kind of picture to take to describe: “Focus on your breathing.” An fMRI would probably be the most precise documentation of me completing the task, but those are hard to get. Then I was frustrated by not being able to take a good selfie of myself sitting on my yoga mat and “focusing” on breathing. However, I soon became very angry with the ‘YOU’ . An app that should be helping us focus on our inner feelings and thoughts managed somehow to make me more agitated than I was beforehand, by insisting on a superficial ‘proof’ that has no relevance to its goal.

For me, the idea of mindfulness was exactly the opposite. I wanted to get away from the constant need to see how something looks to the outer world. I do believe that for quite some time now, we try to use even our free time to impress others. We might organize our study space, bake a cake, colour a picture, or do whatever is said to be a relaxing activity, but we are doing it to have more hearts on WeHeartIt. I am not judging people who do this; I do it as well. But that is why I wanted to learn how to simply enjoy a few moments in a day.

I never took a picture for ‘YOU’. I followed through the two weeks just by doing the tasks for myself, but I did not continue beyond the agreed period. More than relaxed, the app ‘boiled me up real good’. Don’t we have enough social media for posting photos of our yoga mats, smoothie bowls, and pretty classical books with a cup of green tea near by? Actually, it is not even that, I could stand another social medium like that, but can we at least then stop pretending this is more than that? Even going so far as to charge people money for a service that is nothing more than fancier (?) Tumblr.

[Žad Novak] 

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