I was talking with a buddy of mine about Father’s Day while we were standing around the BBQ this past weekend. He said that it was important for him be a good father but he noticed that when he was with his kids his mind often was on other things, like work, or he found himself reacting in negative ways that reminded him of his own father. He was wondering how he could be more present with his kids and less reactive.
Q: I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that my mind wanders even when I’m with my kids. How much do people’s minds typically wander?
A: A study out of Harvard University showed that people’s minds wander on average 47% of the time across a wide range of daily activities. Perhaps your mind is wandering even as you read this article? Interestingly, whether people’s minds went to pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral topics, they were never as happy as when their minds didn’t wander!
Q: How can mindfulness meditation help me be a better father?
A: My guess is you don’t choose to think about work when you are with your kids, it just happens automatically, without you knowing that your attention has been hijacked by thinking about something else. And there may even be times when you find yourself reacting to your kids in ways that remind you of your own father. If you are more mindful, you increase the chance that you are aware that your mind has wandered or even that you are reacting in old ways and can choose to respond more in the way you would like to.
Being mindful is something we can all do but we often forget. Practicing mindfulness can help increase the chance that you are mindful when you want to be. A lot of research on mindfulness shows it to be helpful in many ways including, for example, being more present, feeling more positive emotions, being less emotionally reactive, reducing tendencies to dwell or worry, as well as improving brain function and immune system function.
Q: What exactly is mindfulness meditation?
A: Mindfulness meditation is different from concentrative meditation, which refers to calming the mind by gently returning attention to a single object of meditation, e.g. a word, mantra, part of the body, etc. I hear a lot of people say that they can’t do meditation because they can’t stop thinking.
Mindfulness mediation is somewhat different and difficult to describe. Jon Kabat-Zinn – who developed a program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the late 1970s – defines mindfulness as a non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling or sensation that arises in awareness is acknowledged and accepted as it is in order to get a better understanding of how our minds work.
Q: How do I start practicing mindfulness?
A: There are several ways to cultivate mindfulness. You could take a course in MBSR or Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). You could use the Mindful Way Workbook, which can show you how to do the MBCT program on your own. If you would like to read more about MBSR, you could look at Full Catastrophe Living (1990), or The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007). You could attend a mindfulness meditation sitting group. Finally, MBSR BC is a resource of mindfulness-based classes and retreats in B.C.