Mindfulness is a technique that has developed out of eastern philosophic traditions such as Zen Buddhism. The idea has been around for a long time, but, in recent years, mindfulness has taken on a life of its own, becoming a way to manage stress and anxiety. And with the holiday season quickly approaching, turning to mindfulness may be a good way to manage the demands that sometimes comes with it.
Thanksgiving is this week.
And that may make a lot of people happy, but it may also bring other people anxiety—the ever-growing “to-do list,” making travel arrangements, preparing meals, and managing the details of a large family and friends get-together can seem overwhelming. That said, however, the prospect of a planning a large family and friends event for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an invitation for anxiety. If used properly, mindfulness may be a useful tool. Here’s how it works . . . .
In “Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity,” author David Fontana, Ph.D., explores the intersection of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness. In what he calls “the Zen state,” which is barely indistinguishable from a “mindful mind,” he writes: “In this frame of mind, the individual becomes so riveted, so absorbed and fully conscious, that all other things drop away. It is as if nothing outside the focus exists.”
Fontana goes on to describe what it feels like to be in a “mindful” state of mind. Moreover, some of his thought exercises to practice mindfulness can be summarized by the following:
• Experience the here and now
• Experience life and death in each moment
• Move beyond the self
• Find laughter in pretension
• Discover harmony in all things
• Tune into the seasons
• Understand form and emptiness
Although Fontana mentions many other ways to invoke mindfulness, these few, I think, remain illustrative. “Moving beyond the self,” for instance, is put into practice when, in a meditative state, an individual is able to focus on his or her environment—the people, places, and things surrounding them. “Tuning into the seasons” is one way to do that, while “understanding form and emptiness” is a “mindful” technique that is sometimes used by those who practice meditation.
One very common way to understand form and emptiness is to place an empty bowl or glass and jut focus on it. What is the shape of the object? Is it smooth or rough? How much space is there within the bowl or cup? What sorts of materials or objects can it hold? Focusing on people, places, and things like this has been shown to decrease anxious feelings because it allows the individual to “get outside of his or her head” and become completely tuned into the surrounding environment.
So, as Thanksgiving approaches, applying “mindful” techniques such as the cup or bowl exercise may be a way to reduce stress and anxious feelings that may arise as a result of the chaotic environments that emerge throughout the holidays.
In this way, giving thanks and being mindful go hand in hand.
Fontana, D. (2001). “Discover Zen: A practical guide to personal serenity.” Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1 – 160.