By Seham Kafafi
Mindfulness is a state of being in the present moment, accepting it, without judgment. To be mindful is to observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance. The idea is not to “clear your head”, but to bring your mind into focus. Rather than living in autopilot, letting each moment pass before you, mindfulness can bring a fresh perspective and an open, awakening experience to your daily life. Understanding what being “mindful” is can be a bit tricky as opposed to being “mindless”. By being mindful, your mind is fully engaged with the events occurring in front of you. To be mindless is to be completely disengaged from your present experience and be lost in thought and obsessive thinking. Although our modern society does not particularly facilitate such a natural way of being, you can bring this state of awareness with you throughout your daily life.
Mindfulness Within You
Mindfulness is a trait that we all possess, however it may have been overridden during the course of our upbringing. A child has a natural fascination towards their surroundings. They have a curiosity and wonder towards life and constantly ask us the question: why? The natural curiosity is overtaken as we begin to plan for our futures or perhaps even blame our past for our failures. Thanks to our modern society, we have adapted to constant interruptions and multitasking even though it is making us less efficient and slowing us down. With interruptions come discontinued trains of thought, inhibiting our ability to complete tasks and perform our best work, therefore, leaving many of us frustrated and anxious.
Cultivating mindful awareness takes practice and self-compassion. A high degree of concentration and acceptance is required during practice. There are many techniques used to practice mindfulness such as meditation, yoga, or other sports like martial arts. You can use daily activities to be mindful as well such as walking, eating, or listening to music. Bring your attention away from your active mind and into the activity in front of you. Because we are so used to the mind being active, staying in the present moment may be challenging when you first begin.
Try this exercise: listen to your favorite song. Every time your mind drifts into thought, bring your attention back to the song. Be compassionate with yourself if you find that thoughts arise frequently. Practicing mindfulness is ideally done with a teacher, however, you can access YouTube videos and audio files online. It is recommended to see a teacher in the beginning for support and guidance, and with more experience, you can develop a home practice.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
The mind is excellent at adding narrative and commentary to each aspect of our lives. The role of the mind is to do so, however, when this becomes excessive, you experience stress and anxiety. This can also cause damage to neural cells related to memory. The benefits of mindfulness include increased attention and focus, emotional regulation, clarity in problem-solving, and sleep improvement. A regular meditation can aid in developing self-awareness while movement exercises like yoga and martial arts increase body awareness. Mindfulness may be practiced in relation to other spiritual or religious activities, yet you do not need to be of a certain faith to be mindful.
Mindfulness and Psychological Well-Being
Mindfulness programs have been developed and modified by health practitioners to alleviate the symptoms of various psychological and physical challenges. A recent study by Mark Wiliams and Willem Kuyken, two leaders of mindfulness research, has proven that people with depression who underwent Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy showed a 44% reduction in relapse after one year versus people who sustained a consistent dose of antidepressants. From the study, they were able to conclude that those who are compassionate towards themselves during times of low mood are able to break reactivity.
Where to Find Mindfulness Classes
Nūn Center hosts workshops, private sessions, and will be running an 8-week Mindfulness course in October. The course consists of meeting once per week for 8 weeks in 2-hour sessions. Every week you will learn a new meditation, the purpose behind the meditation, as well as discuss any experiences that came up during self-practice. Group sessions are an ideal platform for sharing common themes with others and for developing a rapport with those who are practicing regularly. During the 8-week course, you will learn a combination of meditations, and mindful movement exercises, and you will learn to integrate mindful daily activities on a weekly basis. The course requires a strong time commitment of 1-hour everyday for meditation and journal entry reflections. The purpose of the journal entries is to observe your thoughts and feelings as you go along the course, to identify common patterns, and improve your self-awareness. If you are currently undergoing intense life changes, it is advised to wait until matters are stable before entering the course.
About the Practitioner
Seham Kafafi was awarded a MSc. Mindfulness: Neuroscience and its Clinical Applications in January 2016 from King’s College London. Her academic work focuses on the neural effects of meditation through which she analyzed fMRI data comparing those who have substantial meditation experience versus non-meditators. Kafafi’s initial motivation to complete her Master’s was to find an alternative means of treating psychological difficulties rather than psychiatric drugs. During her undergraduate studies, she worked with a team of students to identify the psychological needs of the Cairo population after the revolution in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
Kafafi was born in the U.S. and moved to Egypt in 2009 to be closer to family. She attributes her wellbeing to the love of her family and to discovering mindfulness meditation. Having struggled with depression herself, she discovered an empowerment towards her mental health by overcoming previous life events, which had been overwhelming her. Through mindfulness, Kafafi has stopped identifying herself with her past and began to formulate her core values based on her experiences.
You may email her for inquiries: [email protected].