Mindfulness stands in contrast to mindlessness

An Oct. 22, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “What if age is nothing but a mind-set?”

The article describes an experiment in which a group of subjects in their senior years, who had graduated from high school many decades earlier, were provided an intensive array of sensory cues – such as music from the 1950s, among many other cues – that enabled them to experience their “younger selves” from their high school years, over a period of five days.

They were instructed to imagine that they were in their teens once again. All manner of suitable artifacts – vintage radio, black-and-white TV – were provided to help them to experience themselves as their younger selves.

The resulting mind/body effects – people sat taller, their sight improved, and their minds appeared sharper – that are described in the article are of interest.

I’m looking forward to learning in future if the initial experiment, described in the article, has been replicated.

Without replication, the evidence is interesting but not robust.

Definitions of mindfulness

Ellen Langer’s conceptualization of mindfulness, described in the above-noted article, is similar to the concept as it’s been conceptualized by practitioners of mindfulness-based stress reduction, but is not identical to it. It’s wonderful to know there can be more than one way to define mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be approached as a component of a range of religious traditions or it can be practised without a connection to any particular belief system.

Oct. 14, 2014 CNC The Current podcast about mindfulness

An excellent discussion of the connection, and the lack of connection, depending on one’s approach, between belief systems and mindfulness can be found in an Oct. 14, 2014 CBC The Current podcast entitled: “Mindfulness meditation moves into the classroom.”

I recommend the above-noted podcast highly. It features a balanced and informative discussion about the teaching of mindfulness in public schools.

I found the New York Times article of interest and have placed several of Ellen Langer’s books on hold at the Toronto Public Library including Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (2009).

How We Learn (2014)

The broader context of research about learning is of interest as well. I have outlined the latter topic at a post entitled:

The research defies what we’ve been told: How We Learn (2014) and The Handbook of Language Socialization (2014)

The following two lists of concepts, corresponding to what Ellen Langer calls “Intelligence” and “Mindfulness,” respectively, is from The Power of Mindful Learning (1997). The table provide a quick overview of key concepts from the book.

In the book, the information is presented as a table. For this post, I’ve added IDs to the two columns in the original table. This A1 is contrasted to B1; A2 is contrasted to B2; and so on. In time I may learn to work with tables in WordPress using HTML coding, but I have not yet mastered the skill.

Differences between Intelligence and Mindfulness (Langer 1997: 110)

Intelligence

A1 – Corresponds to reality by identifying the optimum fit between individual and environment

A2 – A linear process moving from problem to resolution as rapidly as possible

A3 – A means of achieving desired outcomes

A4 – Developed from an observing expert’s perspective, which focuses on stable categories

A5 – Depends on remembered facts and learned skills in contexts that are sometimes perceived as novel

Mindfulness

B1 – Controls reality by identifying several possible perspectives from which any situation may be viewed

B2 – A process of stepping back from both perceived problems and perceived solutions to view situations as novel

B3 – A process through which meaning is given to outcomes

B4 – Developed from an actor’s ability to experience personal control by shifting perspectives

B5 – Depends on the fluidity of knowledge and skills and recognizes both advantages and disadvantages in each

[End of data from table]

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

I’ve been a beginner practitioner of mindfulness meditation, and of the application of mindfulness in everyday life, for over a decade.

Desperation as a source of motivation

I learned mindfulness in a structured, eight-week course of instruction as I’ve described at a previous post.  I embarked upon this structured learning process toward the end of my 30-year teaching career, when I began to realize that the stress responses I was experiencing, in my day to day work, didn’t appear to be very good for my health. Learning to practise mindfulness is among the many great things that I learned in my career as a teacher.

An interesting feature of my practice of mindfulness is that I would never have learned to practice mindfulness had I not felt a measure of desperation – I was desperate, years ago, to find a practical way to address the day to day stress of working as a public school teacher.

Gestalt psychology

In the late 1960s, I read a textbook about gestalt psychology in which the reader was provided with an exercise whereby you try to make contact with the present moment. The gist of the message, in the textbook, was: “Now that you’ve contacted the present moment, did you notice how quickly you lost the contact?”

Many years later, I learned that one can make contact with the present moment – and, with a little expert instruction, a person can also learn to maintain such a contact for longer and longer periods, rather than just saying: “Well, as you can see, it just can’t be done.”

Mindfulness as process

Mindfulness is a great process, a great way of being in the world. Once you’ve received the instruction, you can proceed by “learning by doing.”

I especially like the fact that what a person learns from the practice of mindfulness is so much different from what a person learns from reading a book, however valuable the reading of a book may be.

Can a person learn mindfulness from reading a book? I wouldn’t know. It may be possible. I’m currently reading books by Ellen Langer, who has developed a particular approach toward the practice of mindfulness, as she defines the concept. I’m keen to apply her concepts. I’m pleased she has published a series of CDs, explaining mindfulness (as she defines it) through the spoken word. This looks to me like a valuable resource.

Teaching of science

A Dec. 26, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “To Raise Science Scores, Colleges Look Beyond the Lecture.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“DAVIS, Calif. — Hundreds of students fill the seats, but the lecture hall stays quiet enough for everyone to hear each cough and crumpling piece of paper. The instructor speaks from a podium for nearly the entire 80 minutes. Most students take notes. Some scan the Internet. A few doze.

“In a nearby hall, an instructor, Catherine Uvarov, peppers students with questions and presses them to explain and expand on their answers. Every few minutes, she has them solve problems in small groups. Running up and down the aisles, she sticks a microphone in front of a startled face, looking for an answer. Students dare not nod off or show up without doing the reading.”

Also of interest

A Jan. 23, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Rewired: Learning to tame a noisy brain. (Or, how you can use the power of neuroplasticity).”

Memory and dementia

An additional update involves a May 3, 2015 CBC article entitled: “Canada’s version of Hogewey dementia village recreates ‘normal’ life: Canadian facility creates similar false-reality experience based on Holland’s Hogewey.”

A conceptually related May 3, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: Why are older Danish women so happy? Danish women explain why ageing in a country that looks after its citizens is ‘like one long really fun holiday.’ ”

Update

A July 31, 2015 openDemocracy.net article is entitled: “No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone.”

 

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