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How to Be Mindful:
an introduction

    
Shaun Kerry, M.D.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
   
Read Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (1991) written by Thich, N.H. and published by Bantam Books.  It initiates readers on a meditative journey into the world of mindfulness, and is so simply written that it can be read and understood with ease.

This book integrates the simple mind-set of mind and body awareness into daily activities.  By being conscious of one's breathing while doing daily
activities such as driving, washing dishes, or eating, one can develop a heightened state of mindfulness.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness is an all-encompassing quality that springs from a sense of profound self-awareness.  Only through existing 'in the moment' can we achieve tranquility that enables us to confront our darkest fears and tap into our own self-healing powers.  With the aide of mindfulness, we will possess the inner strength and peace that we must have in order to identify our suppressed fears, and bring them to the surface in order to release them.  Those who have obtained mindfulness can acknowledge the need to look within themselves to uncover the underlying causes of their negative feelings.  Once the cause has been realized, such feelings can be eradicated.

Mindfulness, or an intense and profound self-awareness, lies at the heart of an ideal society.  Each individualís behavior exerts an impact on other members of the society.  Mindless individuals generate chaos.  They harm the people who they love, often without realizing the consequences of their actions.  In contrast, mindful individuals are intensely aware of their environment and the people around them, and follow a path of love, selflessness, and peace.

Our current school system - government-controlled and factory-like- produces an environment that is contrary to mindfulness.  It is built on the notion that happiness will come in the future if we are miserable today.  This reliance on hope is based on a lie that is extremely destructive.

Every person, from the moment of conception, is dealt a unique personality that determines how and what he will learn, and the kind of social contribution that he will make, among other things.  This process of individual and unique development works extremely well until the child is placed in the traditional classroom.  At that point, the teacher essentially says: "You will learn what I want you to learn, and do the many assignments that I give you.  If you do not, you're going to be in big trouble."

There are many problems with this approach, but three particular concerns are paramount:   

  1) People, males in particular, absolutely detest being controlled.  In my twenty years of experience as a psychiatrist, patients have had three main complaints about parents and teachers: control, abuse, and neglect.  Students want to learn. They don't want to be controlled.

2) Abuse is extremely common in schools,

particularly among men.  Almost every school has its bullies and scapegoats.  Teachers often have their favorites, and their 'bad' kids, who are targets of incessant humiliation.

3) Excessive assignments and 'busywork' are extremely damaging to mindfulness.  Many students spend 70 hours or more per week on assignments.  In this kind of environment, the brain has no opportunity to integrate and process the complex array of data that it encounters.  This results in the neural circuits becoming a tangled mess.

The essence of meditation is to sit quietly in a place where there are no distractions.  Do you know that most people cannot do this?  When presented with no external distractions, people must confront the internal conflict and disorganization that exists within their minds.  Doing so makes most people very uncomfortable, and if they remained in such a reflective state, they would become even more disheveled and confused; they would become even more uncomfortable.  Gradually, they would reach a point of clarity, and arrive at a deep state of inner peace.

Most people, however, are unwilling to engage in this process, which  would force them to confront their own subconscious conflicts.  To avoid this, many individuals become addicted to the rat race of meaningless activity.  In order to distract themselves, they must remain constantly busy.  Unquestionably, the mind needs an environment free of pressure, and time set aside for peaceful reflection.  Now contrast these needs with the common practice of students neglecting sleep in order to study for exams.

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