Mindfulness is an ancient exercise in maximizing human potential that is becoming a hot topic in the 21st century. Born in one of the cradles of civilization as a key component of Buddhist philosophy around 500 years BCE, mindfulness has now spread worldwide and provides comfort in our time as it did in antiquity.
The key element of mindfulness is presence in the moment. Our gigantic frontal lobes give us unique self awareness and a difficult to control tendency to spend our present moments worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but when our preoccupation with that which we cannot change and that which we cannot control goes too far we sacrifice the value and content of that which is all that we really have: the here and now.
As Rick Hanson so cogently points out in Buddha’s Brain , our gigantic frontal lobes evolved with a marked negativity bias. This has survival value as we are more likely to survive to pass on our genes if we give weight to life’s near misses than if we walk around with our head in the clouds goofing on all the good karma all around us. But it is survival at a cost.
Mindfulness provides an antidote to the negativity bias built into our DNA and permits us fully occupy and, enjoy (mostly) each passing moment.
I have found that being present in the moment has made me more effective as a physician. I am less likely to be fretting about things I can’t control, how far I am behind in my schedule and what I have hanging over me. It has truly transformed my relationships with my patients. I thought I was pretty good before, and in all honesty I did have moments of uncommon effectiveness, but I now feel I have taken my practice to another level. How do I know? I can see it in the faces of my patients.
As Max Strom points out, our lives are essentially time. When we kill time, waste time, pass time we are incrementally killing, wasting and passing-by our very existence.
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planets biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.
One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.
The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? what could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.