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Editorial: The power of everyday mindfulness


Sunday, May 28, 2017

You are tired and stressed out after a long morning at work. To unwind a little during your lunch break, you open the Twitter app on your phone and start scrolling through your feed. A politically charged tweet catches your eye, so you press on it to read a little of the back and forth. Soon, you can feel anger rising in your chest. You don’t know any of these people, but their words feel sharp and personal. By the end of lunch, you feel even more tired and stressed out than before your break. When you rejoin your co-workers, you find that you have no patience for their questions, comments or requests for your time. You are overwhelmed and irritable, and that feeling follows you home and sticks with you right up to the moment you drift into a restless night of sleep.

Let’s try that again.

You are tired and stressed out after a long morning at work. To unwind a little during your lunch break, you open the YouTube app on your phone and search for a 15 minute meditation. The image of an inviting tropical beach catches your eye, so you click on the video. Soon, you can feel the tension begin to leave your body. You don’t know the person who is guiding the meditation, but his words are soothing and restorative. By the end of lunch, you feel even more refreshed than you did at the start of the day. When you rejoin your co-workers, you find that you have a much greater capacity to listen to their questions, comments and requests for your time. You are relaxed but alert, and that feeling follows you home and sticks with you right up to the moment you drift into a blissful night of sleep.

The first scenario is illustrative of how most people live their lives, and the second represents the power of mindfulness.

There is no trick to being fully present, but it’s not easy to do, either. Try, for example, to think about nothing but your breathing for 30 seconds. If you are like us, you realized you were on a fool’s errand after about five seconds (Inhale . . . I need to schedule an oil change . . . Exhale). That’s why yoga classes, weekend meditation retreats and books about “living in the now” are so popular. Science has even begun documenting the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness (meditation has been clinically proven to lower blood pressure and ease anxiety, for example), but the question of how best to achieve the desired state in the midst of a busy life remains fairly elusive. The effort to find the path is worth it. As Monitor education reporter Lola Duffort wrote on Monday, fourth-graders at Concord’s Broken Ground School have been able to improve the atmosphere in the classroom by practicing stillness exercises that lead to quiet – or quieter – minds. Led by Margreta Doerfler, a clinical social worker at Riverbend Community Mental Health, the weekly sessions at Broken Ground and other Concord schools have helped the children become more mindful of their peers and surroundings and, importantly, learn how to calm themselves. Serenity is a valuable commodity in any classroom.

Life is often stressful – especially in this age of 24 hour news, deep political division and social media – and sometimes it feels like there is no respite from anxiety and fear. But many people choose to be perpetually tense, angry and resentful when they could build stillness into their lives. No one person can bring peace to the world, that’s true, but everybody has the power to bring peace to their own mind – if only for brief but beautiful moments here and there.