I started a mindfulness course...

and I feel like I'm connecting to my innermost self...A little exaggerated but it is really interesting so far. 

I'm not sure if everyone has heard of futurelearn but its a sort of MOOC (massive, open online community) which shares short, free courses from universities worldwide on topics from science, business, creative through to social sciences. 

At the start of october I began a course about Mindfulness , I've taken this course before but I certainly didn't continue my daily meditation practice so I was only to happy to revisit it. In brief the course gradually teaches you a variety of different length mediations and punctuates this with applications of mindfulness and scientific studies. It's interesting and pretty enjoyable. The course is from Monash in Australia and pretty much runs once a quarter it seems; with a new follow up course exploring its application. 

Link to course.

 Awareness of when you're entering 'default mode' is an important part of the course. 

Awareness of when you're entering 'default mode' is an important part of the course. 

What have I learnt

Firstly there is a lot of interesting research and dialogue around mindfulness and its application as a form of treatment (or supplementary treatment) for a variety of disorders. Whilst I feel like research into mindfulness & meditation isn't fully conclusive for some of its claims (like that mindfulness slows ageing and can reverse the damage of stress at genetic level), the general well being and reduction of harmful physiological side effects of stress do seem thoroughly researched and documented. 

Mindfulness appears to be a desire to be 'present' in as much as possible and it's an opposite to living in 'default mode'. Default mode is described as living in a state of constant distraction, worrying about the future or ruminating on past events whilst working on tasks in the present. I think we've all been there. 

For me, one of the biggest discoveries (or rediscoveries) was how much I find myself living in default mode and how palpable it can be at times.

I can imagine myself going to work on the Wednesday worrying about an event that's happening on the Saturday, even though I have prepared for it. This isn't mindful. I've not chosen to take some time to address my worries about a future event; I'm interrupting another action (riding to work) to make half-hearted attempts at addressing a worry. It doesn't work, it creates stress and anxiety and your mind learns to spend most of it's time fragmented.

Another example could be trying to read a poignant article in an effort to be more immersed in a given subject, but getting distracted by email and also worrying about your productivity. No one of these three things are receiving focused attention. 

I realised that most of my days were in some regard spent in default mode. You start a project in the morning and worry about not finishing; or worry about if there is another task once you finish. But really the goal should to be mindful of the current task; accepting that looking for another task should only happen once the current task is complete. 

Default mode is a killer. I feel myself dropping into it often each day. And I guess that's okay. My brain has had decades of living in a distracted state; it takes time to rework how the brain operates and the brain IS easily distracted. But being subtly aware of it helps. It's trigger to review my current mindset. Am I drifting into default mode? Is this really unhelpful? Do I need to pause what I'm doing to consider something else? Being aware of losing focus is in itself mindful, so I try and accept the fact that my mind has drifted and put effort into correcting rather than criticising. 



So far I dig it. I'm finishing off the final week, and I really want to try and meditate daily, maybe it will become my next yearly project. The course spoke of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain physically changes over time, that what we do we get better at and that this is often realised in structural changes in the brain. 

What is the difference in stress from someone with 5 hours of meditation practice, versus 100 versus 1000 hours? A years worth of meditation could easily have quite a profound effect. 

I'll leave this post with a awesome video of a bunch of scientists discussing mindfulness and their respective journeys to it. It's really interesting and a great listen whilst you're working.