A word on mindfulness

August 10 2015

Peter Johnson is a psychotherapist and teaches mindfulness to adults and in schools. Before starting his own business, Peter trained as a nurse and worked in the in the community. We asked Peter about how mindfulness can, not affect our lives, but how it directly affects our community.

What is mindfulness?

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Our mind is where we experience everything: our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, sights, and sounds, and memories, and the urge to scratch our nose! We often identify the mind with just thinking but it contains much more information than that.

Mindfulness is a short hand way of describing our ability to become aware of the traffic in our mind, without getting caught up in it, and turning it into a really useful life skill.

What does the word wellbeing mean to you?

I have a sense of wellbeing when I am feeling good and functioning well in life. This means that despite life being difficult and challenging and unpredictable, my mind is generally coloured by positive moods and feelings.

I am not trapped by feelings of loss or sadness or anger which we will inevitably experience, I can look beyond myself and engage with life with energy and optimism and kindness.

How does the way we live affect our wellbeing?

We know from research that we have physical and emotional needs so my wellbeing is underpinned by getting enough food, being physically active and by a good night’s sleep.

It’s also worth noting that a couple of hour’s aerobic activity a week can be as helpful as going to a psychotherapist like me!

We know we need to eat to live but we also need to feed our emotional needs. One group of psychologists have summarised our emotional needs as:

  • Having a sense of security; could be financial, physical, emotional etc
  • Having a sense of control and autonomy in life
  • Being connected to others, giving and receiving attention
  • Feeling part of a community
  • Having close and intimate relationships
  • Privacy
  • Feeling valued
  • Having a sense of competence and mastery in one or several areas of life
  • Having a sense of meaning and purpose

I would add that connecting with nature through accessible green space is also important to wellbeing.

What have you learnt about yourself through mindfulness?

Mindfulness helped me become more aware of the mental forces that control my behaviour. For example, I’m more alert to how I physically feel and the impact that has on my behaviour.

Instead of being a walking to do list I can stand back and make wiser choices about what’s best to do right now.

I am more aware of other people and have a greater sense of connectedness to creation.

I have also become more appreciative of all the good things happening in life right now. And I am more able to linger on these good experiences in ways that make a difference to my brain.

So for me a beautiful sunset is a heart stirring moment; mindfulness has enabled me to let go of the inner impulse to check my emails and just enjoy the wonderful experience of a setting sun!

Isn’t mindfulness a bit of a solo activity? How might practicing mindfulness boost a sense of community in a person?

Mindfulness, like centering prayer or Christian meditation, is practiced by an individual. However, it can feel more pleasant when practicing it in a group, just like contemplative prayer.

Since cultivating the skill of mindfulness is a lifelong process, it’s very helpful to meditate in groups and share experiences afterwards.

More importantly mindfulness meditation energises the insula, a part of the brain involved in empathy. Empathy reaches out to other people.

Mindfulness is permeated by an attitude of kindness and compassion toward oneself. That attitude of self-compassion is an essential building block in showing compassion to others.

What encouragement would you give to the people at Greenbelt when it comes to wellbeing?

Investing in your wellbeing means you will have more mental capacity to be the compassionate person that you want to be.

I think all of us want to live our lives in a way that imitates the call of Luke 6.36: ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate’.

The question for me has always been ‘yes, but how?’

Investing in wellbeing is a key part of the ‘how’.

We will host three major programme slots at Greenbelt this year, on wellbeing, dementia and mental health. Join in the community conversation with Livability this year at Greenbelt or on Facebook or Twitter.

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