We spend lots of time and energy in keeping ourselves healthy. We watch what we eat and how much we exercise. Periodically, we monitor various health metrics and get our blood checks done to ensure that all is well. We are aware of ‘health’ as a precious resource for our wellbeing.
We also spend lots of time and energy in keeping ourselves wealthy. We try to have enough income and liquidity and are conscious of what we are spending. Periodically, we monitor our assets and ensure that they are managed well to meet our current and future financial needs. We are aware of ‘wealth’ as a precious resource for our wellbeing.
I wonder why we don’t focus to the same extent on another precious resource for our wellbeing – our MIND? Why don’t we get annual check-ups for the state of our minds? Why don’t we meticulously monitor what we put into our minds on a daily basis? Why don’t we measure the quality of the output of our minds? Is it meeting our current and future needs? Are we mind-healthy? Hmmm…
Imagine a world where we all went for annual ‘Mind Fitness’ checkups. We could have our own quantified scores for SI (Sanity Index), PEM (Positive Emotion Measure), CC (Creativity Count) and RQ (Resilience Quotient) and many such metrics (yes, I just made all of these up!!). A follow-up discussion with a mind-consultant and a fancy printout would highlight if our scores fell in the normal range or if we had drifted into the red zone. We could then be given a list of lifestyle adjustments to get us back to optimal mind-fitness levels. Imagine that!
In today’s world, what might these lifestyle adjustments be? They could include less online social networking and more time laughing with real friends, less time in meetings and more time problem-solving by a water-fall, time away from scheduled activities but mandatory day-dreaming time slots. Can you sense your shoulders relax as your mind slips into this state? Ah…some of you might say but that is what we call vacation. I agree. The question I have is – Why don’t we ‘vacate’ on a daily basis? Imagine if we had the permission, no…orders, of a certified mind-consultant to ‘vacate’ on a daily basis. Imagine that!
I think one of the big reasons why we don’t focus on ‘vacating’ our mind is that we equate ‘vacating’ our mind to not being ‘productive’. We believe that just ‘being’ and not ‘doing’ is not how responsible adults spend their lives. We must be ‘doing’ something to prove our worth, our value to the world around us, or even ourselves. Sadly, access to unprecedented amounts of information and connectivity is not helping either. It is causing our minds to be over-saturated and busy all the time. Email, texting, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram are constantly pinging our minds. Other people’s lives are constantly interrupting our real lives. What if we found out that constantly reacting to all these pieces of information was injurious to the health of our minds?
Another reason why we don’t pay attention to our ‘mind’ is that we do not have any scientific tools and metrics to measure our mind’s long-term performance and health. What exactly does the dysfunctional world of ‘House of Cards’ do to my mind’s restlessness? How much is my creativity impacted by a walk in the woods? What effect does the non-stop input from people and devices have on my emotional and psychological health? How are all these daily activities affecting my attitudes, my moods? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had real hard data to see these relationships?
So how do we deal with all of this on a daily basis? We sometimes increase the number of our ‘productive’ activities. Sometimes, we seek refuge in the slickest entertainment available to us. We may socialize more with friends and family, we read, we exercise. But in all of these activities, we are still using our brains to optimize whatever we are involved in. As we don’t understand the cost to a mind that is always busy – analyzing, planning, problem solving, achieving, connecting, relating, striving – we don’t actively seek opportunities for it to calm down. What is the result? We get super-busy with great intentions but we are stressed out, fragmented, restless and unsure of where we are heading. What we don’t realize is that our minds might be looking for nourishment, not in more information or knowledge or people or things to do but, in restfulness.
To be fair, as a society, we have started to correct where we might have overreached. We have started to look for ways to alleviate, or at least, manage our stresses. One of the tools that has become extremely popular in the western world in the last decade or so is ‘Mindfulness’. All ancient religious traditions have had some components of meditative practices. Eastern traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Zen have always made these practices available to the layman to deal with life. The current wave of mindfulness in the western world has been imported from Buddhism in a completely secular format. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the contemporary wave of mindfulness, defines it as ‘paying attention in a sustained way to our body, mind and the world around us in a non-judgmental way’. This modern wave of mindfulness was originally introduced into the medical field as a tool to improve mental wellbeing for clinical patients. It is now being accepted in the corporate world, in educational systems, in modern military as well as in the creative world of performing arts. It is being used not just for stress reduction but also for enhancing performance in all facets of life. Many studies are available in academic and scientific journals to prove the benefits of these practices. Scientific tools like fMRI, that came about twenty-five years ago, are able to attest to the neurological changes and adaptations of our minds as they experience restful states in ‘mindfulness’ practices.
So till your medical doctor is able to measure your SI, PEM, CC and RQ and can give you advice to get those to healthy levels, I invite you to experiment with mindfulness in your life and observe what happens to your happiness, growth and fulfillment. Socrates wisdom still holds true in “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”