The Minimalist Mind: paying attention to the right stuff.

I have tried mindfulness, it doesn’t work.

Oh. OK, how long have you been practicing mindfulness?

I tried it last Thursday. It doesn’t work.

Conversation with a parent of one of my patients.

Has being mindful become the new black? Little more than a trendy meme or cool fashion statement?

The word, rather than the practice, seems to be the latest hashtag for life.

Much loved by advertisers, it crops up everywhere. Most obviously in book titles about selling, relationships, leadership and mental health, add your own topic here!

This is good – as far as it goes. Mindfulness has benefits, great benefits, for those who practice it. These include improvements in physical and mental health – and can even add to our longevity. Unfortunately this modern version of secular mindfulness has become divorced from its roots as a practice.

A practice is something we include as a core part of our lives, and is not just a tool to help us sleep or have better sex – although it can do that too.

Mindfulness allows us to live in the present moment, making deliberate choices about how we live. It helps to sort the wheat from the chaff in our mind.

We live in a noisy, stimulus rich world. An environment that seems to have been deliberately designed to make our minds struggle to focus, keeping us constantly on the edge of a fight or flight response.

During Operation Nifty Package, the invasion of Panama aimed to overthrow Manuel Noriega, a CIA intelligence asset, drug dealer and President of Panama, the US army used stimulus overload as a psychological warfare technique, playing loud rock music 24/7 outside the Vatican embassy where Noriega had taken refuge.

Information overwhelm raises our stress levels, increasing our allostatic load. This affects our brains’ internal wiring, our threat detection systems become hypersensitive causing a further hike in  stress levels.

Mindful living has virtually the opposite effect on brain pathways. This helps us to make more creative and considered choices about our lives rather than remaining reactive to the world around us.

Regular mindfulness practice helps us sort through the cluttered areas of our mind, including the parts that react to the world and try to keep us safe, but instead cause us to repeat unhelpful actions over and over again.

Minimalist living is NOT just about white walls or only owning thirty things. It is a way of living. A way of seeing the world. Keeping our mental space uncluttered is more important than tidying our cupboards – although that also helps.

We all take refuge in our own version of the Vatican Embassy. The background noise of twenty-first century living clouds our judgement and prevents us from living creatively.

If we are to lead truly satisfying lives it helps to practice mindfulness. This allows what I call The Minimalist Mind to develop.

If we take time to clear out “The windmills of our mind“, we put ourselves back where we belong – living creatively in command of our own minds.

Becoming a mental minimalist gives our mind the space in which to function as effectively as possible.


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