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An Introduction to Mindfulness

In this interview Mark elegantly answers the question, 'What is Mindfulness?’. He also leads two simple introductory practices for beginners.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien. Today we're joined by Professor Mark Williams, as he guides us through an introduction to mindfulness. Mark is Emeritus Professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, where he was the director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre until his retirement in 2013. Mark co-developed this program called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which is designed to prevent relapse of major depression. And he co-authored one of my favorite books on mindfulness, simply called, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

Here's my interview with Professor Mark Williams. So I thought we could maybe start off by simply getting you to describe what is mindfulness and, and how do we practice it? Well, mindfulness really is a word that really simply means awareness. Awareness of what's happening as it's happening, both in the inside world and the outside world. It comes from a very ancient word, but it's probably easiest to understand if you think of its opposite, mindlessness. Mindlessness, where you keep forgetting to do things, you don't listen properly, you're not attending properly.

The world is going by without you really being there for it or here for it. And mindfulness is the awareness that emerges when you make a decision to train your mind, to some extent, to check in more often to how things are. So the original word, awareness, it actually came from a word meaning memory, which slightly changed its meaning to being non-forgetfulnes. Non forgetfulness to mean that sort of direct, intuitive knowing of what's happening around you, both inside and out. And that's really what mindfulness is about.

Mm. And one of the things that I actually really love about this book, one of the things that really struck me about it is that not only does it have a really clear explanation of mindfulness, but you actually go into that description of what mindlessness is as well. What, and a really wonderful description of why it's so important to wake up out of that. In other words, how it can really get us into trouble. So maybe we could elaborate a little bit more on that.

What's the problem with autopilot? Why do we say, does it seem to get us into so much trouble? Well, I think the problem is not so much with autopilot itself. So automatic pilots is a very useful thing that the mind and body does. If you think of learning to drive, for example, it was probably, if you drove in as sort of a stick shift in a, in a car with a gear. A stick, probably you frightened your parents or your partner, or whoever were teaching you to drive no end, because you'd look down to see where you hand needed to be and what the gear. So you'd use all your mind for that moment, not to steer the car, but to change gears.

And it's just as well, you learn to make that automatic so that, or if you never learned, you bought yourself an automatic car. So that you'd actually know how to keep your mind on other things. So when you make things automatic, that's a really helpful function. The problem is, is where the automatic pilot takes over on things that actually it would be easier and more adaptive if you weren't so automatic. Right, So if you take the driving analogy again, it's very important to be, have all your attention on the road at a point where you come up to a rotary, a round-about, an intersection.

And that's the point at which you can't be on automatic. And if you are, then accidents happen. If you don't look left and right, because you know, or you've every time you've come up to that intersection before in the past 10 days, there has never been any traffic there. So you just assume automatic that's going to happen again. Then of course, accidents happen.

Right. When automatic pilot takes over, over things and you get so absorbed in something that automatic pilot is doing other things for you and the difficulty with that with, I mean, in a sense there's two aspects to mindfulness. One is the way in which mindfulness training transforms destructive emotions. And perhaps we can come onto that later and all the research on that. But also mindfulness is helping you re-engage with moment to moment living.

And that re-engagement with moment of living, the sense of approaching life with a sense of awareness and really being there for it, experiencing being alive moment by moment means that if you cede too much control to the automatic pilot, you're just not there. You don't taste your food, you don't listen, you don't see. And although it's all there available for you, it's just not being processed. It's not being attended to. Yeah.

And one of the things we didn't get to chat about this before, when we previously met. But one of the things that actually really affected my life was that when, when I was 19, I was working in a nursing home and one of the things, you know, they really wanted to impart their wisdom. And one of the things that they would often say is things like, you know, that they felt like they didn't really live a lot of their lives and had regrets when they got to the end. That was a very impactful thing for me. And it kind of strikes me that it does seem that we, we seem to spend a good portion of our lives in that mode of kind of doing one thing after another, after another and not really being there fully.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean Thich Nhat Hanh has this lovely example of, you know, having a drink. Maybe if you, you go and have a drink before you go out for, to go shopping or something and you realize all the cups are, are need of washing. So you wash the cups.

But washing the cups is just a preparation for making the tea. So you don't, you're not really there for washing the cups. So you don't notice the water or the washing and so on. Cause after all who would? I mean, it seems irrelevant. But then when you're drinking your tea, where is your mind? Often your mind there is on your shopping expedition and what you need to buy.

And you look at the cup and you think, Oh, uh, Did I just drink that? Right. Oh, I must've done cause nobody else drunk it. But you haven't been there for the tea. Yeah. And then when you're on the way to shop, you're, you're thinking about what you're going to buy.

And when you're going around the supermarket, you're wondering about whether there's going to be long queues. And when you're queuing, you're hoping that this person in front of you is not going to ask the price of bread, and so on and so, and so. So you go through, there's a whole morning lost where the tea, the washing, the tea, the drive, the shopping, the driving home, the cooking. It's all been lost to you and you're quite right that, you know, losing a morning doesn't seem that important. But if at the end of your life with say six months to live, you look back on your life like you looked at that cup and you look back on your life and saying, was that my life? That was it.

It must have been because nobody else lived it. I was the one that lived it, but actually I wasn't there for it. I wasn't there for it. Yeah. And I know you mentioned too in the book and I know, I'm, I'm a big fan of Matt Killings worth's research on this as well, and there's this, it seems like being on autopilot makes us vulnerable to deeper states of suffering, of anxiety, stress, being revved up and those kinds of things as well.

So there's that kind of cost to it as well. Exactly so. So that exactly. So that research that shows that when your mind is wandering, you're actually not as, as, it's not actually a pleasant experience. I mean, some people imagine that daydreaming is always pleasant.

The problem is that daydreaming is the first cousin of rumination and brooding and worrying. And especially if you are a little vulnerable to worries and concerns and depression. Under the surface, when you're on autopilot, you can coalesce and negative moods can coalesce. Irritations, hostilities, sadnesses, hopeless worries, fears. And you're not aware of them until they've already built into quite a mass.

They've already affected the body. So the body's already send, sending signals to the mind saying, I'm tense. So you better be tense too. And that's already, it already happened by the time you wake up for it, you're already quite far down into, for example, another depression. So that waking up and checking in regularly is, is an important thing.

The other thing is that we so often get preoccupied with projects, you know. And if we're doing a thesis or an essay, or got a big project on, you can see exactly why, during that project, you put aside the things that you, you normally enjoy in order to focus on the project, the essay, the whatever it is you've got to do, promising yourself that when it's over, then you'll do the things you promised. But actually, while you're doing that project, the mind is doing a pretty good automatic job of suppressing all your other jobs that you have to do. So when it's over, although you promised yourself bliss and a bit of freedom, actually what comes crowding in is all the other things, all the other projects that you've put on hold. Because you're kind of already in that, that kind of revved up state of yeah, just getting it done.

That's right. Yeah, so you don't give yourself very much nourishment. You just go. The end of one project is just a signal to start another one. And promising ourselves that next year, in the new year, after this vacation, after this, then we'll start enjoying the life that we actually promised ourselves becomes actually a bit of a delusion.

It never actually happens. So the question is how can I nourish myself in the next hour? Not even in the next day. But what can I do, some small thing, in the next hour or two that actually will make a difference and give myself a break and, and give me some practice at attending to my life in a, in a more wholesome way? Not just, not just giving my thinking a break, but actually just switching on a different mode of being and, and letting that be exercised and letting that have, have some play in our lives as well. Yeah. It's such a seductive mind pattern that, one day when...

It's amazing how it's just. It is. And I, I catch myself over and over and over just remembering that. Well, exactly, we all do. I mean, it's natural human nature.

And, but what we're doing as mindfulness teachers is not saying we've, we've sussed it, we've got over it. It's actually a sense of recognizing, perhaps just a little bit more recognizing when it, when it undermines our best intentions. And because we live in this world of ideas and taking a break is such a lovely idea, taking a break for the future, next week or whatever. So it only, it only stays in the realm of ideas. It's never actualized today.

And that's what we need a bit of practice now. Yeah. Wonderful. And Mark, you know, we, we've touched on a little bit of wanting to talk about the research and you're one of the premier researchers in the field of mindfulness. So I would love to have you share with us, what are the research backed benefits of mindfulness that we know of so far? I know things are still evolving, but what do we know? Well, things are still evolving.

And one of the mistakes. I think, is just think that mindfulness is a panacea for everything. That all you have to do is pour mindfulness on the problem and suddenly it will dissolve. Not only does the research have a long way to go, but also the way in which mindfulness has, addresses different forms of suffering. It's bound to be slightly different in each case.

So that just generic mindfulness courses, although they will probably get you at least halfway to, because there are universal problems that get us stuck and mindfulness is very good at those. And if it's going to address specific issues, it needs to be specifically aware of in addressing the suffering that's that's coming. But the research is, I mean, most of our research myself, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal's research, was on the prevention of depression. We could see in the eighties and nineties that depression had, and it was destined to be one of the major burdens in not only the Western and rich countries, but also in low-income and middle-income countries as well. And it's a burden increasingly, we're aware of it, partly because it's recurrent.

It tends to come back in many people. But that wouldn't be a problem if it started late in life. But what we're now aware of over the last 20, 30 years is that depression actually starts quite young. And the most common age of onset of serious clinical depression now is between 13 and 15 years of age. Wow.

And that, and 50% or more of people who are ever going to be depressed, in fact, 75% of people ever going to be depressed have been depressed before the age of 24. And that means they've got a whole lifetime ahead of them, where if depression gets into recurrent pattern, it could blight their lives for the whole of their lives. And there's now long-term followup suggesting that once it settles into a recurrent pattern, you're going to be depressed about four months every year, over a 20 year, 30 year period. Wow, that's a lot. And that, and that's function impairment.

That's not just feeling a bit sad. That's unable to, to work maybe, unable to feel effective at work or with family with leisure pursuits. So it's not surprising it's the biggest, one of the biggest burdens for the World Health Organization? Well, the problem there is, there are pretty effective treatments for depression for when people are depressed. So cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, antidepressants, all seem to be quite effective. But that those depend on, on depression being there to be treated.

These don't tend to work as preventative things if you're not depressed now. So if you do cognitive therapy, then people do get better. And once they're better, their relapse rates are lower. But the question is, what is the critical thing that cognitive therapy is teaching? And could you teach that to people who are not depressed, who, who we know are vulnerable, but not depressed? Well, it turns out that the critical thing that cognitive therapy was doing was to help people to stand back from their thoughts and not take them so personally, to have a more curious approach, centered approach to their thoughts, rather than a sort of an aversion, I don't like this, I'm just going to bury my head and suppress them, or get lost in them and take them all personally. And that's what cognitive therapy was doing so effectively.

Now, maybe we could find a way of teaching that same skill to people who have no negative thoughts at the moment. Mindfulness is really good for that because you only have to sit for 10 seconds on the cushion before your mind wanders, and you have the opportunity to practice seeing your thoughts clearly, feeling lost in your thoughts and actually noticing you're lost and coming back. And I think that that, that is, for many people I think the, the really critical thing that mindfulness allows you to do to, we call it de-centering from thinking now. When you do that, and when we do the research, it shows that yes, if you teach that for eight weeks to people through, as you say, it's something called mindfulness based cognitive therapy, which is closely based on Jon, Kabat-Zinn's work in MBSR, but subtly changed and important ways to address the problems of depression. You find you can almost half the rates of depression in the most vulnerable people, the people with the most recurrent pattern of depression.

Wow. And the most recent research, that we've just finished last year and published last year, added, I think in important ways to that in, in a couple of ways. First of all, we were looking at people who tend to get suicidal when they get depressed. And we found that after the mindfulness course, there was an uncoupling of depression from suicidal thoughts. So even when people got depressed after the mindfulness, it didn't trigger suicidal thoughts.

Right. It didn't kind of escalate to that. It didn't escalate into suicidality, which is important because we can't ban depression from the world. And if people have been depressed and suicidal in the past, whenever they get depressed again, they tend to feel suicidal again. So uncoupling, those things are quite important.

That was the, that was the first thing. And that's just coming out this year in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. But two other things. One was that nobody up till now have compared mindfulness for depression with an active treatment control. They'd been intended to compare them, at least not an active psychological treatment control.

So they've compared it with antidepressants and the data suggest that they are at least as effective as antidepressants. And actually when you put all the trials together, slightly more effective. Oh, wow. So that data came out of The Lancet a couple of weeks ago. Willem Kuyken, who is the, my successor at Oxford, showed it wasn't, his trial wasn't big enough to show that mindfulness was better than antidepressants.

But when you put all the trials together, there are four trials by now, then mindfulness based cognitive therapy is a little better. But no trial had looked at an active treatment control that was a psychological treatment. So we couldn't, we didn't know whether when people would come to class and learn mindfulness and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT, it might be just that they have a nice teacher, that they meet each other and make new friends, that they talk and learn about depression. Maybe those non-specific effects are what's doing the business. Maybe it's nothing to do with mindfulness at all.

So in this research, we had an, another psychological treatment, which was like MBCT without the mindfulness. So people came to class, they had the same teacher, they learned about depression, they met each other, they made good friends and everything was the same, but they didn't learn to meditate. Okay. And the data suggested that yes, as once again, MBCT was highly effective for those most vulnerable people. In this case, people who had long histories with trauma in their childhood and adolescence and abuse.

So they were the most vulnerable and that's where MBCT was the most helpful. And it's more than halved the rates, that hazard of relapse, as it's called. But interestingly, if you looked up this, this is what we call cognitive psycho-education, this active, psychological treatment, it got you halfway. So it took the relapse rates down about halfway. So coming to class, meeting each other, learning about depression is about is, is quite good.

But if you want to full effect, if you want to go the other, the other half, if you want the full benefit, you have to learn to meditate. Hm. It's, it's really, it's, it's amazing what's happened over the past, I think. What is it? 35 years since MBSR has been, really made mindfulness, I mean, it's an incredible thing that, that mindfulness is as effective as antidepressants or slightly more. I mean, that's, that's amazing.

It's, it's, it's wonderful that, it's wonderful that mindfulness is going is going so mainstream. So... Yeah. And the thing is, I think probably the third part of that research is something that might disappoint some people, but not others, that enthusiasm for mindfulness actually doesn't predict any benefit. Interesting.

Just being enthusiastic about it. So I mean, this well-known phenomenon in psychology and psychological research, which is that if you are enthusiastic for your treatment, you tend to do better at it. Yeah. And that's also true of antidepressant medication. So if you, or any medication, if you think this is the thing that will help you and you think it's plausible and you'd recommend it to a friend and you think you're going to do well on it, then you tend to do well on it.

Okay. And that's true for psychology or, or a physical medicine. So we were really concerned, maybe that actually the important thing wasn't people meditating, but people just being enthusiastic about, about MBCT or mindfulness. I see. Yep.

And so we actually measured, at Session Two, we gave some standard questions. Like how plausible do you think this is? How enthusiastic, how would you recommend this to a friend? For example, do you think this will work for you? And the first thing that we found was the enthusiasm for our control treatment was just as good in fact, slightly better, not significantly better, but slightly better. People were enthusiastic for both, but noticed the MBCT did better than the, the control treatment. So it wasn't just enthusiasm. But then we looked at how much people practiced.

Then just in the MBCT group, how much do people actually practice? And, you know, some people practice, other people don't. Well, we were interested in that because we wanted to know does practice of mindfulness, you know, doing the formal daily practice, does that affect the outcome? And some people have shown that it did, some other people shown that it didn't. We said, well, look, even if it shows that it does, it might just be enthusiasm. There might be the enthusiastic people, both get good outcomes and they practice more. But our results were published last year in the Behavioral Research and Therapy Journal were very clear.

Enthusiasm didn't affect how much people practiced, but how much people practiced, did affect the outcome. So basically, every extra day you practiced over the six days that we asked people to practice, actually benefit and reduce the risk of relapse. So if you just split people by the, by the middle and say, okay, so people on average practice three and a half days a week out of six. So just take the people who practice, zero one and two, all the people who practice three, four, and five, and you find a six. You find that when you split people in the middle, people who only practiced a little only got half the benefit that people who have practiced as, as they have more of more than three days a week.

And none of that was anything to do with enthusiasm. So basically if you're enthusiastic for mindfulness, I'm afraid it's not enough. Yeah. The, the phrase that springs to mind right now is, you know, Jon Kabat-Zinn's quite well known for saying, you don't have to like it. You just have to do it.

You just, just practice and let it unfold. Yeah. Exactly. So this is exactly why, I mean, you know, we'd never, we believe Jon. Yeah.

But we never had any evidence to suggest, suggest he was right. Now, we've got the evidence to show that he's right. Actually, if even people who weren't enthusiastic, if they practiced, they got the benefit, and that's a critical thing. Yeah. And that's important for us as teachers to know, when we're meeting people for the first time, that what they're doing here is potentially transformative, but one has to do the work.

Yeah. And not, not just important for us as teachers, but for everybody watching this, that's interested in mindfulness and, and, you know, wanting to find out what it can do for your life. Just go for it and find out for yourself from the inside out. Exactly. Yeah.

Just give it, give it the eight weeks that we ask you to give it and just see what happens and make a judgment at the end, rather than 10 minutes in, because it's going to be quite difficult. In fact, in our early days of developing work for suicidal people, of suicidal, depressed people, we actually looked at who drops out. Because in our first pilot work in Oxford, A lot of people dropped out. And, and that's, I think because people who have suicidal depression often are very highly ruminative. And it's when, when thoughts, and now we know images, they get very clear pictures in their mind, which are very, very toxic and horrible.

And so when this comes up, they've learned to ruminate about them rather than focus on them, rather than approach them. And they've learned to suppress them. And we found that those who are most highly ruminative and most highly avoidant dropped out. And so we now spend time in that preclass interview, the intake interview, really saying, what are you going to do when you feel like giving up? Because it'll happen. It'll happen.

You'll feel like giving up. So see that as an opportunity, really to say that that is where the biggest learning might come. So when you feel like giving up, say, aha, this is it, here it is. This is what I've been sort of, this is what I was warned about. Now, how am I going to approach this? What's going on in my mind, in my body, in my impulses, in my, in,you know.

So think, thoughts and feelings, what is this about? And this provides people, and when we did the big trial, having made those adjustments, instead of 30% dropping out only 7% dropped out, which is very low for a trial of this kind. So I think that this is important messages for mindfulness, for people doing mindfulness and for mindfulness teachers. Yeah, absolutely. And in your experience, you've taught so many people over the years, you know, and you must have a sense of common themes or common challenges or, or obstacles as you mentioned that, that come up for people when they're learning to practice mindfulness. Are there, could you speak to that a little bit? Are there common challenges? And if so, what advice do you have for anyone out there beginning their mindfulness practice that might come up against these challenges? Well, I think that one of them we've already mentioned, that is actually putting a time aside to practice.

In our clinical work, we tend to have long meditations done once a day. You know, 25, 30, 35 minutes. In the Frantic World book, we decided to split that up into shorter meditations twice a day. Yeah. And one of the reasons for doing that is that although people in the end get rather similar amounts of meditation in total, it does give people, first, one, more opportunity to discover what, what time of day is best for them.

It might be the morning. They may get up a little bit earlier before the household is up. Or it might be middle evening or middle of the day. And if you only do it once a day, often you meant, it may take a long time to discover what works for you. Try it twice a day, or, or even more gives you more, more of that flexibility.

But also by doing things more than once a day, you get to practice one of the really, really hard things about meditation, which is actually getting there. Meditation is not hard once you arrive. Right. I mean, that's a different business. I'll come onto that in a moment.

But actually getting from your bed to your chair or your studio, cushion or from the television to the bed or from, because in the mode in bed or in front of television, you're in a sort of doing mode in which you're either snatching some relaxation or you're working hard. And whether you're snatching relaxation, you think, Oh, I don't want to do the meditation now because I'm relaxing, or I don't want to do the meditation because I've got too much on. And those two things, the snatching a little bit of what you call downtime, but often it's just slouching from the television. So I think that. practicing twice a day, gives you more chance at practicing the hard thing, which is that making that switch.

Once you're there in your special place, where you sit on a cushion, on a stool, and of course you don't have to have a cushion or a, or a stool, a chair is perfectly good for people meditating. The first time it's useful to put a cushion under themselves so that their, their hips are slightly higher than their knees and their feet can be flat on the floor and the back can be self-supporting, but that can be done with an ordinary chair. You don't have to do anything special. But that sense of just transferring from one mode to the other and just sitting there is really important. Once you get there, then you can decide how long to stay.

Switch on the tape, switch on the CD, download the stuff and, and be there for it. And then the other thing is not to worry if your mind wanders. A lot of people who begin meditation for the first time, think this is to try to clear my mind. And actually the media often gives that message, partly through it's photographs of monks or beautiful women at the top of mountains who look completely blissed out. And you can't believe that actually what might be going through their head is Ow, this stone is a bit hard or I feel a bit hungry, cause they look so blissed out.

It looks as if their mind is empty. And often you'll see articles in the press about learn to meditate and clear your mind. And actually, so when people sit and their mind wanders all over the place, I think I can't do this. I can't do this. But actually mind wandering is indeed needed for the practice.

So that if your, if your mind didn't wander, it would be a bit like going to the gymnasium and finding there's nothing, no equipment in the room. There's nothing to practice on, you know. If going to the gym and finding an empty room, you'd probably want your money back. Yeah. So when you meditate the mind starts to wander and that's like the gymnasium equipment.

That's what you're going to be practicing on because the mind wandering is going to give you all sorts of micro challenges. They may not be huge things your mind is preoccupied with. But the mind has a really good way of just reminding you of all the things you've forgotten to do, for example, and making you feel like, unless you do them now, you'll forget them again. So those sort of challenges come up, you get that sort of sense. So that's where, that's, the, the practice is noticing that, noticing you've got a bit lost.

Waking up and escorting your mind back. That sort of attentional muscle training, you might say, is the, is the cornerstone or the foundation of mindfulness, using the body as the, as the foundation because you can't leave home without the body. It's always there for you. And using the body to learn to attend on the breath or on the sensations in the body. And then the mind will wander, bring it back, mind wanders.

So the going away and coming back is actually the practice. And if you could sit there and there was nothing in your mind, then you wouldn't have the practice you need to have. Right. So knowing that that's completely normal and not a sign of failure, but it's just part of the practice. Yeah.

It's part of the practice. It's what gives you the practice. Many very senior mindfulness teachers are very aware their mind wanders all the time and as you get more and more practiced at, it's not that your mind doesn't wander, it's that there's an ease of returning a sense of self-forgiveness, a sense of cultivating compassion for yourself. And, and I suppose the other thing I'd say that the challenges is that even when you notice the mind has gone and you bring it back, what I'd suggest that people look very gently and carefully at how they're bringing the mind back. Are they sort of pulling it back in a rather abrupt away, almost with a frown on their face as if a naughty child was being, you know, pulled away from the biscuit tin? And are you treating yourself as if something's gone wrong? As if you've done something naughty and you better get, you better get your mind, your mind back on the breath before anybody notices.

That you're, you know, you're not there. And so that sense, that's easy to get that sense of sort of contraction around it. So in order to to do the opposite, when you notice your mind has gone, just spend a few moments noticing where it went, acknowledging where it went. Perhaps even being amazed and wondering at the mind and cherishing your mind. You won't have your mind forever.

So cherish the fact that here's the mind doing its thing. Isn't that fantastic? But that's not what you would intend to be doing. So now you're going to very gently escort the mind back to the, where you had intended it to be. Perhaps settling yourself in the body first, before going back to the breath. So rather than going, my mind's gone.

Now back to the breath, which is narrow, narrow. Maybe go to the body first and then gather it back to the breath. So it's one graceful movement of acknowledgement and bringing back with a sort of sense of compassion and, and, and then really you're getting the practice you need to get. Yeah. I'm so glad that you brought that up because it makes such a huge difference in the whole tone of, of practice, doesn't it? It can really just be this feeling of struggling and striving and pulling and pushing at the mind, or it can be, you know, like you say, light and easeful and, and yeah.

That;s it. I'm really glad that you, that you brought that up. Yeah. Indeed we're in, when we developed a sort of mini meditation that would be portable for people who do MBCT, the three-minute breathing space. We deliberately, although we called it the breathing space, it's actually not going to the breath as the first step.

It has three steps. And the first step is about acknowledging what's going on. Because if there would be a danger that if you said, oh, things are going a bit wrong. Right? Take a breathing space, go to the breath. What you're doing is simply changing what you're focusing on.

You're, you were focused on that now you're focused on the breath. Changing what you focused on doesn't necessarily change how you are focusing on it. So this speaks to what you just, what you just said about the nature of the going away and the coming back. How you treat your mind. Do you treat your mind with friends, with friendliness, with, with, with a friendship.

And so the sense of the three-minute breathing space of pausing and acknowledging what's going on in mind and body right now brings an approach quality to your experience. Before then you do step two, which is gathering the mind. Yeah. And, and, and, and settling the mind. But even then, we don't go back into the world before we've done step three, because that gathering is great, but that's a fairly narrow focus.

And if, again, if you took that out into the world, you might go back out into the world with a narrow focus. So we ask people at step three, before they finish the breathing space, to expand to the whole body. So that that's a more open stance. And then what they, what they take back out into the world is a stance of openness and spaciousness. A sort of more a being mode than a doing mode.

So that's why the breathing space has these three elements, these three steps to it deliberately to cultivate a different attitude to the self and the world, rather than just give your, give your thinking mind a break. Right. Yeah. And I love, I love the three-minute breathing space, not only because it's a really wonderful way to bring mindfulness into any moment, really in, in, in your day, you can do a breathing space. But what I really like about it is that it's really wonderful in those moments where we do find ourselves a little bit revved up or a little bit caught up.

It's such a wonderful way of bringing mindfulness and embodying the present moment. It has such a wisdom in that. And I was, I was wondering if, if you would care to maybe give us an experience of the, of the breathing space. Would you guide us through a little experience? Okay. Yeah.

So wherever people are watching this, maybe just adjusting the posture. Allowing the eyes to close, if you want to. But just lowering your gaze, if you don't want to close your eyes, if that feels uncomfortable for you. And then in this change of posture, that's already a sign of stepping out of automatic pilot. And then moving into step one of the breathing space.

Acknowledging what's going on in mind and body right now. What thoughts are around? Any feelings? Any body sensations? What do you notice? And don't try to make anything different about how things are. Simply acknowledging. Allowing things to be just as they are for this moment. A sense of noticing the weather pattern in the mind and body right now.

And then allowing this to fade into the background and moving to step two, gathering the attention and allowing the attention to settle on the breath. Maybe the breath down in the abdomen. Noticing the rising of the in-breath, falling away on the out-breath. Not trying to control the breath in any way. Allowing the breath to breathe itself.

And if the mind wanders, simply acknowledging where it went and gently escorting it back to the breath. And then moving to step three of the breathing space, expanding the attention to the body as a whole sitting here. Noticing all the sensations from the crown of the head to the bottom of the feet and right up to the surface of the skin. Noticing any and all sensations in this body sitting here, breathing. A sense of coming home to the body.

And as best we can, bringing this sense of open spaciousness to the next few moments of our day. And when you're ready, moving fingers and toes. Allowing the eyes to open if they've been closed. And taking in your surroundings again. So that was the three minute breathing space.

That's amazing that three minutes can be very refreshing. As you were saying? Yes. People sometimes call it the three-step breathing space, because if you keep that structure - there's an open start, the narrow middle, and the open base. It's like an hour glass. Start open then gets narrower and then open again.

And you can keep that three point structure. We even use step one, step two, step three, to remind ourselves that it's three steps to it. So it doesn't all get mushed together. And then of course it can be, it can be five minutes or it can be three breaths. So you can take all 10 minutes, whatever.

You can have your whole meditation, however long it is in those three sections of the sense of acknowledging, then the sense of gathering and then a sense of opening. But when you're out and about, you know, getting onto a busy tube train or going into a classroom where you've got a difficult situation to meet or whatever, you can take three breaths with a sense of acknowledging, gathering, opening. Yeah. Wow. Just as a way of just touching in, in those moments.

Yeah. It's wonderful to have that structure to work with. Thank you so much for sharing that. And one of, one of the other things in the book that I really appreciated, you know, when we're talking about autopilot before. You introduced in, in the mindfulness book, you introduced what you call habit releasers.

And I really love those. Just, and they're just, they're so simple, just little things that we can do right everyday to be more awake and embodied and, and to switch out of autopilot mode. So would you care to share with us what a habit releaser is and maybe some examples of how we could use them? Okay. So habit releasers are addressing one of the issues that much of our automaticity, our automatic pilot is shown in the fact that we do the same thing day in, day out in the same way. Now, we brush our teeth with the same hand and we put the other hand in the same place, wherever that is.

I mean, I don't know whether you know exactly what happens to your left hand when you're brushing your teeth with your right. And where's the hand, you know. That's right. But so it takes very simple situations to say, what about deliberately, just for a day or two, doing it differently. So for example, sitting in a different sort of chair at the table at home.

Yeah. Or in your in your lounge or sitting room or the drawing room, or on the bus or on the, on the cab, do you always sit on the left-hand side of the right-hand side, the back or the front? Maybe just do something different. See, see what you notice about doing things different. So they can be as small as that. Or when you go for a walk look up for a moment.

I mean, if it's safe to do so. Yeah. Just stop and look up, maybe and look at the tops of buildings rather than the ground. We're so used to actually being in a sort of a L S, Lowry sort of position, the artist who had all his figures bent double, almost double looking at the ground. What about, you know, standing uprightly here.

But there are other things that are take more arrangement, but to be spontaneous, like going to the cinema, perhaps with a friend, but not trying to find out what's on before you get there. So, you know, when we were teenagers maybe, we would go out with friends and we would just say, let's go to the cinema. And we didn't know then, because there wasn't any internet to find out what was going on. So you just turn up at the cinema. You just have to turn up and see what was on.

And so it's really interesting to just go. And as soon as you almost decided to do it, you can feel the thinking going on, say, Oh dear, what if it's a bad film? What if I won't enjoy it? What a waste of time, if it's, you know. Well, most cinemas have about nine screens these days. So there's one that's bound to be something which is tolerably okay. Even if it, even if it's Bambi.

So interestingly, my daughter and I did this, we just, you know, when, when the book was being written, I said to my daughter, come on, let's just go to the local cinema. And we went there and yeah, there was, there was a film starting in about 45 minutes that looked quite interesting. One of the things we discovered is the staff these days who are mostly the ticket sellers are also the staff that sell the popcorn and they don't know what films are on or anything about them, which is what one discovery we made. The second thing is it was happening in 45 minutes. So we had to go and find a place to have a drink or a bite to eat.

So we discovered that as well. And then we saw this film that. I, which was really enjoyable, but I would have never got to see that film normally. It would have passed me by. So there's a sort of sense of getting the spontaneity back.

But, but most of the things are very small things. I mean, another example is learning to value the television. Yeah. I love that. Now you might say that.

Good gracious. Surely, surely we should, if we're mindful, we should put the television off and never watch it again. But value the television actually switching it on when you want to watch it and switching it off when that program's finished and then going to, unless there's something else you want to watch later in the evening, switch it on again. Right. So you don't have the thing just playing in the background, just going.

So it's, you know, if you want to, if you want to just slouch in front of television all evening, then fine. Make that decision and do so. And you can channel hop all evening, but at least you've made the decision. Yeah, at least you've made a conscious choice that I'm going to sit here for three hours and I'm going to channel flick. And this exactly.

So that's my nourishment for that you made a conscious choice. But mostly we don't make a conscious choice. We just discovered that that's where we are. And under those circumstances, it's quite nice just to turn it off, make a new choice and then turn it on again, if you want to. And that's what we call valuing the TV and what it offers rather than just taking it all for granted.

So those are the little habit releasers, which take things that we do automatically and just shift them very slightly in order to help help us support the idea of waking up. Yeah. I love that because it it's, it's very kind towards ourselves as well. I feel that that's kind of, you know, it can, it's so easy to get into, ah, I'm not supposed to watch TV and I'm not supposed to eat that kind of food. And I'm a bad person if I do this and this.

But just changing the way that we relate to those things can, change just sometimes happen by themselves or we just relate to that thing in a different way. Enjoy it more. And. Yeah. Absolutely.

I have an, I have an eight year old grandson who loves mixing foods and drinks and stuff. Yeah. It's really nice to see him say, what would it be like if I took that ripe pina and put some of this orange juice and some of this mango juice and, you know. And we, the adults are going, I don't know. But there's something really beautiful about what would it be like.

And there's only one way to find out. There's only one way to find out. So although I said, you know, shifting the ideas, in fact, it's shifting the experience. I mean, it's not just ideas that shift, it's the, it's the experience of actually being kind to yourself. And, and shifting a little bit of, of the moment to moment living in these tiny ways.

That's what the habit releasers are about. I love that. Thank you for sharing that. And gosh, I feel like I could talk to you all night. And I have so many questions that I would love to ask, but I would love, if you feel so inclined, it would be wonderful to have you take us through a practice of mindfulness so that we kind of can experientially...

I know we did the breathing space, but maybe another, just simple mindfulness practice, just kind of taking us through the basics would be most wonderful. Okay. Yeah. Well, let's do something like the the eight minute meditation, which is the one from Week One of the book, The Frantic World book. And this is a brief body scan, scanning through the body, settling down on the breath and allowing people to really gather themselves as, as an entree into, into mindfulness.

Okay. So once again, if you find a place to sit or you can lie down, if you want to. And allowing the eyes to close or the gaze to be lowered. And tuning into this body sitting or lying here. Perhaps starting by taking the attention right down to the soles of the feet.

Noticing what's happening when your attention gets there. Maybe some sense of tingling or warmth or coldness in the soles of the feet. Not trying to make anything happen, but simply registering what's already here in the feet. What sensations change from moment to moment and what sensations stay the same? And if there are no sensations, just simply registering a blank. So there's no right or wrong way to feel.

Whatever your experience is your experience. And expanding this quality of attending to both feet as a whole, not just the soles of the feet, but the tops, the toes, the heel, and perhaps extending to the ankle as well. So you're holding both feet center stage in your awareness. And then expanding this attention to the lower leg, below the knee. So your feet and lower legs held in awareness.

What sensations are here right now? And then the knees. And including the thighs as well. So focusing on both legs. What sensation are here? If you're sitting, you may notice the slight pressure of hands on your lap or on your thighs, the ground under the feet, the thighs sitting on the chair. And maybe imagine that your legs were empty and as you breathe in, the breath could fill up the legs all the way down to the feet on the in-breath.

And then it could empty out on the out-breath just imagine if that, that were possible. And what would it feel like if your legs were empty and could fill up with breath on the in-breath and empty on the out-breath? Just playing with that experience for a few breaths. And then taking a deeper breath. And on the out-breath, letting go of the legs and coming to the waist, the hips, the pelvis, the buttocks on the chair. What sensations are here? And then expanding the attention to the abdomen, the chest.

Around the back. The lower back, the middle and the upper back. Now including the shoulders as well. The hands and the arms. So the whole of the upper body.

Held in awareness, cradled in awareness. And extending this now to the neck and head as well. You may notice as you breathe in and out, there are some sensations in the nose, the nostrils. So now tuning into these sensations. So the sensations of the whole body are in the background, but in the foreground, sensations of breathing.

In breath. And the out-breath. Perhaps noticing the slight coldness on the in-breath in the, in the nose. A greater warmth of the breath as it passes out on the out-breath. Now, if you choose, you may also like to notice what's happening in the chest as you breathe.

So shifting attention from the nose to the chest and seeing if there are any sensations here with the in-breath and the out-breath. Maybe a slight sense of expansion on the in-breath. And letting go on the out-breath. See if that's true for you. And you may also want to extend this by shifting attention to the abdomen and seeing whether there are any sensations in the abdomen, in the belly, as you breathe in and as you breathe out.

And choosing one place where you'd like to follow the breath or a few more minutes now, either at the nose, the nostrils or the chest or down in the abdomen, in the belly. Just settling in, in one of these places and just noticing the sensations that occur as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Every breath unique, slightly different. See if we can be here for it. And if the mind wanders, noticing where it went and then very gently bringing it back to the breath.

Escorting it back without giving yourself a hard time. Nothing's gone wrong. This is the practice. The mind goes, we notice it, we bring it back, over and over and over again. And so in this way, cultivating stillness and reminding ourselves that the stillness of which we speak is not the stillness of the quiet mind, because your mind may not be quiet today.

Your body may not be quiet or still. It's rather the stillness of allowing things to be as they are in this moment. And using this practice moment by moment and day by day to practice cultivating this sense of, of kindness to the mind and the body, of allowing things to be as they are. A sense of befriending the body and mind. And now beginning to move your fingers and toes.

And if your eyes have been closed, allowing them to open and taking in your surroundings again. Thank you for that. Thank you. Hm. And I just have two final questions for you.

And the first one is simply this. You know, I think I heard Joseph Goldstein say recently that he believes that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. And so my question to you is, from your perspective, as somebody who is, has practiced mindfulness and watch that unfold in their life and, and watch the results unfold in the lives of many other people, what do you think would happen if mindfulness were to really hit critical mass? I'm talking, you know, a billion or 2 billion people. What kind of a world do you think that would create? What kind of changes would we see? I think if mindfulness could sustain itself at that sort of level and to stay at its essential qualities of compassion and friendship, I mean, a moment of mindfulness in the ancient traditions, a moment of mindfulness never came without a moment, moment of compassion, joy, equanimity, and kindness. They came, they come as a family.

And one can teach oneself mindfulness, either through mindfulness itself or through cultivating joy or equanimity or kindness or compassion, and the others will come. They're all part of the same family. And yet that moment can so easily pass. I mean, it does pass. It's only this moment.

And mindfulness at the moment, even where it's really taking hold, can easily give rise to a sort of a faddishness like a panacea. Mindfulness is a great new thing. Everybody should be doing it. And those sorts of, that sort of sense of frenetic let's get mindfulness. I think that will pass.

And the question then will be after the froth has gone and the tide has gone out, as it will, what would be left on, what will be left on the beach and will that be able to be slowly maintained. So, but there are some indications that even for those who are learning mindfulness now doing eight week programs, for example, that that is changing prisons, it's changing young offenders. We're teaching mindfulness in Parliament in the United Kingdom now. A Congressman has written a book in America, The Mindful Nation. Tim Ryan.

One of our, one of our own MPs has been across the Dutch Parliament to tell them about mindfulness in Parliament. The European parliament, the, are learning mindfulness now are being offered mindfulness. In British Parliament, by the time the election happened a few weeks ago, 10% of the parliamentary Labour Party had done a mindfulness course, 10%. And they are very interested in introducing mindfulness into the health system, into the criminal justice system, into the education system. Not based on an idea that it's a good idea or just the evidence, but on their own experience of the transformation that they've experienced.

That's the difference doing it on the basis of your own sense that this is really, really valuable. And that the world has become something that needs this sort of ancient Asian wisdom of cultivating a different approach to life than just aspirational, you know, we want to, you know, what we want what we haven't got. So, and so a number of things have happened. Wellbeing has been put in the, in the agenda in the UK government anyway. Yeah.

And so that, that, that all government departments have to give an account of what they're doing on the wellbeing agenda, which is important. So that's one sector, the, the governmental parliamentary sector. So, but part of the agenda for parliament may well be to introduce mindfulness in schools, for example. That's one place where you can teach mindfulness to a whole cohort. Yeah.

In small ways at an age where kids really get it and really enjoy it. And the Mindfulness in Schools program, which we've just been given a big grant to evaluate is going ahead. Mark Greenberg's work in the Penn State with Trish Broderick, Broderick, and, uh, and Tish Jennings is also teaching teachers how to be mindful and then their children as well. And the outcomes are great. And what teachers are now saying is why did we never realize that we told our children to pay attention without teaching them how to pay attention.

And it's not just, well, this is a soft skill they need, if there's, if there's, if there's time in the timetable, but mindfulness and paying attention is actually foundational to all learning. Of course. Yeah. You can't learn trigonometry and calculus if you're not attending. So attention is fundamental.

So that's, what's happening in schools. But the other things are, what do we do about adults? Well, one thing is mindfulness is spreading as a treatment for depression and depression is going to affect 20% of us in our lives. That's a billion people on the planet/ and often the people who are most likely to be depressed in virtually every country are the poorest, most isolated, most alienated, most helpless, the people that get forgotten. One of the challenges will be making mindfulness available, not just for those who can afford to pay to go to a retreat center. But so it's actually built into the educational social system for the poorest to enable them to have the resources to be able to solve problems.

Not just because they get a helping hand, which they need anyway, but because they have a more active problem solving, a wiser, more insightful approach in their own lives as well. So depression, the depression work, I think is potentially extremely important that it's, it's a huge burden and it's a burden born by, by the poorest and the most isolated and the forgotten in our society. And I think the third thing is CEOs. Mindfulness is now taught routinely at Davos in the early morning, in early morning sessions. I was there a couple of years ago.

John Kabat-Zinn was there last year. There's nothing else scheduled that time. People turn up and, and do mindfulness if they want to. And Janice Marturano, who's the head of the Institute for Mindful Leadership in New York, teaches CEOs and leaders, how to in her, title of her book, Finding the Space to Lead. And the accounts she gives of the moving sense in which busy, busy CEOs suddenly discover that there's a world outside the project, the biggest project they're working on, that it has examples of CEOs suddenly seeing the stars in the sky.

It sounds trivial. But it's. It's momentous. Now we know the world of work has gone crazy over the last 20, 30 years. There was a time when people would work eight hours a day.

And if they worked longer than that, they would get paid overtime, which is acknowledged in their pay packet. And then suddenly that became old-fashioned and it became a sort of a union thing. And now that's old fashioned. And, and that happened at the same, when the unions were getting sorted out by Facton and Reagan and the, the politicians, unfortunately, what was also happening was a sort of sense of the sense of excellence means working as many hours as you'd like to work, modeling the whole world on a few entrepreneurs and startups in Silicon Valley who had the sort of brain who maybe could work 80 hours a week, And you mix all of that with technology so we can be constantly connected. Exactly so.

So it's interesting to think now that every generation has to rediscover that after about eight hours, your brain goes to sleep. Even if your bum's still on the chair at work, your brain is not active. And that you can be more productive if you take rests. Now, Henry Ford, exactly a hundred years ago in 1915, increased the salaries of his workers and cut their working hours and saw an increase in productivity. And in the decades that followed other large firms, saw what he had done, in Ford, and followed suit.

We now need some really influential top companies to say, that after about 40 hours a week, certainly 45 to acknowledge that you are no longer, it's an illusion of productivity. And if you take breaks, you're actually get more productivity, more creativity, and a better bottomline. And until somebody really influential says that and doesn't, and we're not all trapped in this sense of, if you go home at the normal time, somehow you're a loser. Right. We have to this.

I mean, I felt the same, you know, and I was running departments and so on. You could feel the pressure to want to be the last person to leave. And there's always somebody with their light on. And, and you know, it may be so just left the light on by the state. Oh my gosh.

I'm not leaving until that light goes off. It becomes a pernicious thing. And every generation has got to relearn, relearn that actually your brain can't function. And when people stopped doing factory work and started moving into doing desk work, people thought, Oh, well that now they can work 80 hours. Actually the evidence is slightly the other way.

That whereas you can go for a factory for eight hours without doing damage and bringing the whole assembly line to a, to a stop because of an error that you made because you were too tired. Actually, it's probably more like six and seven hours of desk work that your brain, because the brain actually needs to take a rest pause. And if it doesn't, it will take an involuntary rest pause. And if, you know, it will just clam up on your, your brain will go cloudy. Yeah.

Then we get foggy, the foggy brain phase. Absolutely. So by taking rests during the day, and then having good nourishment in evening and weekends, that's really important. If, if not, that it has to be built in somehow. And if, if, if mindfulness can do that CEO by CEO, company by company, if it can do it to Google, and there's no point saying, well, we now give, we now give free donuts and meditation spaces in order that people can work through the mat.

That's not the issue. It's actually saying, we pay you to work and we pay you to take breaks. And until a company like Google has taken that seriously, then the rest of us are going to have a hard time changing it. So I think there's clinical world, there's the world of CEOs and the parliamentary world. And to maintain the incentive for practicing mindfulness, even when the froth has died down and it's no longer a fad, that will be the acid test.

And then I think Joseph is right, we'll change the world one by one. But the one by one, isn't just the, the poor person or the disadvantaged, but the person who seeks to employ them and the person who seeks to employ that and the government ministers and the council officials and so on. Yeah. That's I think, yeah. And at the end of our lives, when you and I are going to be somewhere looked after by somebody else, maybe a family member, maybe a assistant care worker, will that care worker be valued enough, paid enough and mindful enough to look after us with compassion.

That's what we'd like. Cause you and I, aren't going to have a mind there to be able to argue back. It's no good for me to say to a, to a care worker. You know, I used to be a professor at Oxford. Yes, dear.

I would be scared. Now let's get you washed. Yeah, yeah. That's the point. That's the reality of the end of our lives.

Now these are end of life care. Are we going to be looked after by people who we respect now so that we can, we, you know, so we are, we're looking after the people that are ignored? That's the critical thing that would be the acid test of a compassionate society. Yeah. Thank you so much. And I, I hope that we have the pleasure of seeing some of that potential paradigm shift happen.

It will be, it would be a beautiful thing to, to, to see unfolding. We'll we'll see. It's an adventure. It is indeed. It's an adventure.

So yeah. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close? No, I don't think so. I was just thinking of all the things that. I mean, one of the interesting things, I think about eight week programs that people often say, well, do I need to go to a class or can I do it by myself? It looks like you can do either. Some people prefer to get things online or to read the book.

Other people prefer to go to a class. And I think that's good. And at the eight week, cause you know, you talked about sticking at it. I think it's worth it because, partly because there's a narrative structure to the eight week course, you know. People are offered different meditations for addressing different issues.

Week by week, people look at different aspects of how this, the mode of mind that actually doesn't serve us very well. Also it's science. How do we know that it's there? And how do we know that that mind-state has, has volunteered for a job it can't do? And that needs a bit of time to work out. So, so I think it starts with the automatic pilot, but then there's noticing you're living in your head and noticing you're wanting things to be different all the time, or noticing you're trying to suppress some stuff. And so there's lots of different things.

So that's why I think it's useful for people to take these things and just stick at them for eight weeks and see how it, how, how it all works out for them. And I wish them very well in, in their, in the adventure of discovering this practice. Thank you so much. And thank you all for watching.

Talk

4.6

An Introduction to Mindfulness

In this interview Mark elegantly answers the question, 'What is Mindfulness?’. He also leads two simple introductory practices for beginners.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien. Today we're joined by Professor Mark Williams, as he guides us through an introduction to mindfulness. Mark is Emeritus Professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, where he was the director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre until his retirement in 2013. Mark co-developed this program called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which is designed to prevent relapse of major depression. And he co-authored one of my favorite books on mindfulness, simply called, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

Here's my interview with Professor Mark Williams. So I thought we could maybe start off by simply getting you to describe what is mindfulness and, and how do we practice it? Well, mindfulness really is a word that really simply means awareness. Awareness of what's happening as it's happening, both in the inside world and the outside world. It comes from a very ancient word, but it's probably easiest to understand if you think of its opposite, mindlessness. Mindlessness, where you keep forgetting to do things, you don't listen properly, you're not attending properly.

The world is going by without you really being there for it or here for it. And mindfulness is the awareness that emerges when you make a decision to train your mind, to some extent, to check in more often to how things are. So the original word, awareness, it actually came from a word meaning memory, which slightly changed its meaning to being non-forgetfulnes. Non forgetfulness to mean that sort of direct, intuitive knowing of what's happening around you, both inside and out. And that's really what mindfulness is about.

Mm. And one of the things that I actually really love about this book, one of the things that really struck me about it is that not only does it have a really clear explanation of mindfulness, but you actually go into that description of what mindlessness is as well. What, and a really wonderful description of why it's so important to wake up out of that. In other words, how it can really get us into trouble. So maybe we could elaborate a little bit more on that.

What's the problem with autopilot? Why do we say, does it seem to get us into so much trouble? Well, I think the problem is not so much with autopilot itself. So automatic pilots is a very useful thing that the mind and body does. If you think of learning to drive, for example, it was probably, if you drove in as sort of a stick shift in a, in a car with a gear. A stick, probably you frightened your parents or your partner, or whoever were teaching you to drive no end, because you'd look down to see where you hand needed to be and what the gear. So you'd use all your mind for that moment, not to steer the car, but to change gears.

And it's just as well, you learn to make that automatic so that, or if you never learned, you bought yourself an automatic car. So that you'd actually know how to keep your mind on other things. So when you make things automatic, that's a really helpful function. The problem is, is where the automatic pilot takes over on things that actually it would be easier and more adaptive if you weren't so automatic. Right, So if you take the driving analogy again, it's very important to be, have all your attention on the road at a point where you come up to a rotary, a round-about, an intersection.

And that's the point at which you can't be on automatic. And if you are, then accidents happen. If you don't look left and right, because you know, or you've every time you've come up to that intersection before in the past 10 days, there has never been any traffic there. So you just assume automatic that's going to happen again. Then of course, accidents happen.

Right. When automatic pilot takes over, over things and you get so absorbed in something that automatic pilot is doing other things for you and the difficulty with that with, I mean, in a sense there's two aspects to mindfulness. One is the way in which mindfulness training transforms destructive emotions. And perhaps we can come onto that later and all the research on that. But also mindfulness is helping you re-engage with moment to moment living.

And that re-engagement with moment of living, the sense of approaching life with a sense of awareness and really being there for it, experiencing being alive moment by moment means that if you cede too much control to the automatic pilot, you're just not there. You don't taste your food, you don't listen, you don't see. And although it's all there available for you, it's just not being processed. It's not being attended to. Yeah.

And one of the things we didn't get to chat about this before, when we previously met. But one of the things that actually really affected my life was that when, when I was 19, I was working in a nursing home and one of the things, you know, they really wanted to impart their wisdom. And one of the things that they would often say is things like, you know, that they felt like they didn't really live a lot of their lives and had regrets when they got to the end. That was a very impactful thing for me. And it kind of strikes me that it does seem that we, we seem to spend a good portion of our lives in that mode of kind of doing one thing after another, after another and not really being there fully.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean Thich Nhat Hanh has this lovely example of, you know, having a drink. Maybe if you, you go and have a drink before you go out for, to go shopping or something and you realize all the cups are, are need of washing. So you wash the cups.

But washing the cups is just a preparation for making the tea. So you don't, you're not really there for washing the cups. So you don't notice the water or the washing and so on. Cause after all who would? I mean, it seems irrelevant. But then when you're drinking your tea, where is your mind? Often your mind there is on your shopping expedition and what you need to buy.

And you look at the cup and you think, Oh, uh, Did I just drink that? Right. Oh, I must've done cause nobody else drunk it. But you haven't been there for the tea. Yeah. And then when you're on the way to shop, you're, you're thinking about what you're going to buy.

And when you're going around the supermarket, you're wondering about whether there's going to be long queues. And when you're queuing, you're hoping that this person in front of you is not going to ask the price of bread, and so on and so, and so. So you go through, there's a whole morning lost where the tea, the washing, the tea, the drive, the shopping, the driving home, the cooking. It's all been lost to you and you're quite right that, you know, losing a morning doesn't seem that important. But if at the end of your life with say six months to live, you look back on your life like you looked at that cup and you look back on your life and saying, was that my life? That was it.

It must have been because nobody else lived it. I was the one that lived it, but actually I wasn't there for it. I wasn't there for it. Yeah. And I know you mentioned too in the book and I know, I'm, I'm a big fan of Matt Killings worth's research on this as well, and there's this, it seems like being on autopilot makes us vulnerable to deeper states of suffering, of anxiety, stress, being revved up and those kinds of things as well.

So there's that kind of cost to it as well. Exactly so. So that exactly. So that research that shows that when your mind is wandering, you're actually not as, as, it's not actually a pleasant experience. I mean, some people imagine that daydreaming is always pleasant.

The problem is that daydreaming is the first cousin of rumination and brooding and worrying. And especially if you are a little vulnerable to worries and concerns and depression. Under the surface, when you're on autopilot, you can coalesce and negative moods can coalesce. Irritations, hostilities, sadnesses, hopeless worries, fears. And you're not aware of them until they've already built into quite a mass.

They've already affected the body. So the body's already send, sending signals to the mind saying, I'm tense. So you better be tense too. And that's already, it already happened by the time you wake up for it, you're already quite far down into, for example, another depression. So that waking up and checking in regularly is, is an important thing.

The other thing is that we so often get preoccupied with projects, you know. And if we're doing a thesis or an essay, or got a big project on, you can see exactly why, during that project, you put aside the things that you, you normally enjoy in order to focus on the project, the essay, the whatever it is you've got to do, promising yourself that when it's over, then you'll do the things you promised. But actually, while you're doing that project, the mind is doing a pretty good automatic job of suppressing all your other jobs that you have to do. So when it's over, although you promised yourself bliss and a bit of freedom, actually what comes crowding in is all the other things, all the other projects that you've put on hold. Because you're kind of already in that, that kind of revved up state of yeah, just getting it done.

That's right. Yeah, so you don't give yourself very much nourishment. You just go. The end of one project is just a signal to start another one. And promising ourselves that next year, in the new year, after this vacation, after this, then we'll start enjoying the life that we actually promised ourselves becomes actually a bit of a delusion.

It never actually happens. So the question is how can I nourish myself in the next hour? Not even in the next day. But what can I do, some small thing, in the next hour or two that actually will make a difference and give myself a break and, and give me some practice at attending to my life in a, in a more wholesome way? Not just, not just giving my thinking a break, but actually just switching on a different mode of being and, and letting that be exercised and letting that have, have some play in our lives as well. Yeah. It's such a seductive mind pattern that, one day when...

It's amazing how it's just. It is. And I, I catch myself over and over and over just remembering that. Well, exactly, we all do. I mean, it's natural human nature.

And, but what we're doing as mindfulness teachers is not saying we've, we've sussed it, we've got over it. It's actually a sense of recognizing, perhaps just a little bit more recognizing when it, when it undermines our best intentions. And because we live in this world of ideas and taking a break is such a lovely idea, taking a break for the future, next week or whatever. So it only, it only stays in the realm of ideas. It's never actualized today.

And that's what we need a bit of practice now. Yeah. Wonderful. And Mark, you know, we, we've touched on a little bit of wanting to talk about the research and you're one of the premier researchers in the field of mindfulness. So I would love to have you share with us, what are the research backed benefits of mindfulness that we know of so far? I know things are still evolving, but what do we know? Well, things are still evolving.

And one of the mistakes. I think, is just think that mindfulness is a panacea for everything. That all you have to do is pour mindfulness on the problem and suddenly it will dissolve. Not only does the research have a long way to go, but also the way in which mindfulness has, addresses different forms of suffering. It's bound to be slightly different in each case.

So that just generic mindfulness courses, although they will probably get you at least halfway to, because there are universal problems that get us stuck and mindfulness is very good at those. And if it's going to address specific issues, it needs to be specifically aware of in addressing the suffering that's that's coming. But the research is, I mean, most of our research myself, John Teasdale and Zindel Segal's research, was on the prevention of depression. We could see in the eighties and nineties that depression had, and it was destined to be one of the major burdens in not only the Western and rich countries, but also in low-income and middle-income countries as well. And it's a burden increasingly, we're aware of it, partly because it's recurrent.

It tends to come back in many people. But that wouldn't be a problem if it started late in life. But what we're now aware of over the last 20, 30 years is that depression actually starts quite young. And the most common age of onset of serious clinical depression now is between 13 and 15 years of age. Wow.

And that, and 50% or more of people who are ever going to be depressed, in fact, 75% of people ever going to be depressed have been depressed before the age of 24. And that means they've got a whole lifetime ahead of them, where if depression gets into recurrent pattern, it could blight their lives for the whole of their lives. And there's now long-term followup suggesting that once it settles into a recurrent pattern, you're going to be depressed about four months every year, over a 20 year, 30 year period. Wow, that's a lot. And that, and that's function impairment.

That's not just feeling a bit sad. That's unable to, to work maybe, unable to feel effective at work or with family with leisure pursuits. So it's not surprising it's the biggest, one of the biggest burdens for the World Health Organization? Well, the problem there is, there are pretty effective treatments for depression for when people are depressed. So cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy, antidepressants, all seem to be quite effective. But that those depend on, on depression being there to be treated.

These don't tend to work as preventative things if you're not depressed now. So if you do cognitive therapy, then people do get better. And once they're better, their relapse rates are lower. But the question is, what is the critical thing that cognitive therapy is teaching? And could you teach that to people who are not depressed, who, who we know are vulnerable, but not depressed? Well, it turns out that the critical thing that cognitive therapy was doing was to help people to stand back from their thoughts and not take them so personally, to have a more curious approach, centered approach to their thoughts, rather than a sort of an aversion, I don't like this, I'm just going to bury my head and suppress them, or get lost in them and take them all personally. And that's what cognitive therapy was doing so effectively.

Now, maybe we could find a way of teaching that same skill to people who have no negative thoughts at the moment. Mindfulness is really good for that because you only have to sit for 10 seconds on the cushion before your mind wanders, and you have the opportunity to practice seeing your thoughts clearly, feeling lost in your thoughts and actually noticing you're lost and coming back. And I think that that, that is, for many people I think the, the really critical thing that mindfulness allows you to do to, we call it de-centering from thinking now. When you do that, and when we do the research, it shows that yes, if you teach that for eight weeks to people through, as you say, it's something called mindfulness based cognitive therapy, which is closely based on Jon, Kabat-Zinn's work in MBSR, but subtly changed and important ways to address the problems of depression. You find you can almost half the rates of depression in the most vulnerable people, the people with the most recurrent pattern of depression.

Wow. And the most recent research, that we've just finished last year and published last year, added, I think in important ways to that in, in a couple of ways. First of all, we were looking at people who tend to get suicidal when they get depressed. And we found that after the mindfulness course, there was an uncoupling of depression from suicidal thoughts. So even when people got depressed after the mindfulness, it didn't trigger suicidal thoughts.

Right. It didn't kind of escalate to that. It didn't escalate into suicidality, which is important because we can't ban depression from the world. And if people have been depressed and suicidal in the past, whenever they get depressed again, they tend to feel suicidal again. So uncoupling, those things are quite important.

That was the, that was the first thing. And that's just coming out this year in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. But two other things. One was that nobody up till now have compared mindfulness for depression with an active treatment control. They'd been intended to compare them, at least not an active psychological treatment control.

So they've compared it with antidepressants and the data suggest that they are at least as effective as antidepressants. And actually when you put all the trials together, slightly more effective. Oh, wow. So that data came out of The Lancet a couple of weeks ago. Willem Kuyken, who is the, my successor at Oxford, showed it wasn't, his trial wasn't big enough to show that mindfulness was better than antidepressants.

But when you put all the trials together, there are four trials by now, then mindfulness based cognitive therapy is a little better. But no trial had looked at an active treatment control that was a psychological treatment. So we couldn't, we didn't know whether when people would come to class and learn mindfulness and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, MBCT, it might be just that they have a nice teacher, that they meet each other and make new friends, that they talk and learn about depression. Maybe those non-specific effects are what's doing the business. Maybe it's nothing to do with mindfulness at all.

So in this research, we had an, another psychological treatment, which was like MBCT without the mindfulness. So people came to class, they had the same teacher, they learned about depression, they met each other, they made good friends and everything was the same, but they didn't learn to meditate. Okay. And the data suggested that yes, as once again, MBCT was highly effective for those most vulnerable people. In this case, people who had long histories with trauma in their childhood and adolescence and abuse.

So they were the most vulnerable and that's where MBCT was the most helpful. And it's more than halved the rates, that hazard of relapse, as it's called. But interestingly, if you looked up this, this is what we call cognitive psycho-education, this active, psychological treatment, it got you halfway. So it took the relapse rates down about halfway. So coming to class, meeting each other, learning about depression is about is, is quite good.

But if you want to full effect, if you want to go the other, the other half, if you want the full benefit, you have to learn to meditate. Hm. It's, it's really, it's, it's amazing what's happened over the past, I think. What is it? 35 years since MBSR has been, really made mindfulness, I mean, it's an incredible thing that, that mindfulness is as effective as antidepressants or slightly more. I mean, that's, that's amazing.

It's, it's, it's wonderful that, it's wonderful that mindfulness is going is going so mainstream. So... Yeah. And the thing is, I think probably the third part of that research is something that might disappoint some people, but not others, that enthusiasm for mindfulness actually doesn't predict any benefit. Interesting.

Just being enthusiastic about it. So I mean, this well-known phenomenon in psychology and psychological research, which is that if you are enthusiastic for your treatment, you tend to do better at it. Yeah. And that's also true of antidepressant medication. So if you, or any medication, if you think this is the thing that will help you and you think it's plausible and you'd recommend it to a friend and you think you're going to do well on it, then you tend to do well on it.

Okay. And that's true for psychology or, or a physical medicine. So we were really concerned, maybe that actually the important thing wasn't people meditating, but people just being enthusiastic about, about MBCT or mindfulness. I see. Yep.

And so we actually measured, at Session Two, we gave some standard questions. Like how plausible do you think this is? How enthusiastic, how would you recommend this to a friend? For example, do you think this will work for you? And the first thing that we found was the enthusiasm for our control treatment was just as good in fact, slightly better, not significantly better, but slightly better. People were enthusiastic for both, but noticed the MBCT did better than the, the control treatment. So it wasn't just enthusiasm. But then we looked at how much people practiced.

Then just in the MBCT group, how much do people actually practice? And, you know, some people practice, other people don't. Well, we were interested in that because we wanted to know does practice of mindfulness, you know, doing the formal daily practice, does that affect the outcome? And some people have shown that it did, some other people shown that it didn't. We said, well, look, even if it shows that it does, it might just be enthusiasm. There might be the enthusiastic people, both get good outcomes and they practice more. But our results were published last year in the Behavioral Research and Therapy Journal were very clear.

Enthusiasm didn't affect how much people practiced, but how much people practiced, did affect the outcome. So basically, every extra day you practiced over the six days that we asked people to practice, actually benefit and reduce the risk of relapse. So if you just split people by the, by the middle and say, okay, so people on average practice three and a half days a week out of six. So just take the people who practice, zero one and two, all the people who practice three, four, and five, and you find a six. You find that when you split people in the middle, people who only practiced a little only got half the benefit that people who have practiced as, as they have more of more than three days a week.

And none of that was anything to do with enthusiasm. So basically if you're enthusiastic for mindfulness, I'm afraid it's not enough. Yeah. The, the phrase that springs to mind right now is, you know, Jon Kabat-Zinn's quite well known for saying, you don't have to like it. You just have to do it.

You just, just practice and let it unfold. Yeah. Exactly. So this is exactly why, I mean, you know, we'd never, we believe Jon. Yeah.

But we never had any evidence to suggest, suggest he was right. Now, we've got the evidence to show that he's right. Actually, if even people who weren't enthusiastic, if they practiced, they got the benefit, and that's a critical thing. Yeah. And that's important for us as teachers to know, when we're meeting people for the first time, that what they're doing here is potentially transformative, but one has to do the work.

Yeah. And not, not just important for us as teachers, but for everybody watching this, that's interested in mindfulness and, and, you know, wanting to find out what it can do for your life. Just go for it and find out for yourself from the inside out. Exactly. Yeah.

Just give it, give it the eight weeks that we ask you to give it and just see what happens and make a judgment at the end, rather than 10 minutes in, because it's going to be quite difficult. In fact, in our early days of developing work for suicidal people, of suicidal, depressed people, we actually looked at who drops out. Because in our first pilot work in Oxford, A lot of people dropped out. And, and that's, I think because people who have suicidal depression often are very highly ruminative. And it's when, when thoughts, and now we know images, they get very clear pictures in their mind, which are very, very toxic and horrible.

And so when this comes up, they've learned to ruminate about them rather than focus on them, rather than approach them. And they've learned to suppress them. And we found that those who are most highly ruminative and most highly avoidant dropped out. And so we now spend time in that preclass interview, the intake interview, really saying, what are you going to do when you feel like giving up? Because it'll happen. It'll happen.

You'll feel like giving up. So see that as an opportunity, really to say that that is where the biggest learning might come. So when you feel like giving up, say, aha, this is it, here it is. This is what I've been sort of, this is what I was warned about. Now, how am I going to approach this? What's going on in my mind, in my body, in my impulses, in my, in,you know.

So think, thoughts and feelings, what is this about? And this provides people, and when we did the big trial, having made those adjustments, instead of 30% dropping out only 7% dropped out, which is very low for a trial of this kind. So I think that this is important messages for mindfulness, for people doing mindfulness and for mindfulness teachers. Yeah, absolutely. And in your experience, you've taught so many people over the years, you know, and you must have a sense of common themes or common challenges or, or obstacles as you mentioned that, that come up for people when they're learning to practice mindfulness. Are there, could you speak to that a little bit? Are there common challenges? And if so, what advice do you have for anyone out there beginning their mindfulness practice that might come up against these challenges? Well, I think that one of them we've already mentioned, that is actually putting a time aside to practice.

In our clinical work, we tend to have long meditations done once a day. You know, 25, 30, 35 minutes. In the Frantic World book, we decided to split that up into shorter meditations twice a day. Yeah. And one of the reasons for doing that is that although people in the end get rather similar amounts of meditation in total, it does give people, first, one, more opportunity to discover what, what time of day is best for them.

It might be the morning. They may get up a little bit earlier before the household is up. Or it might be middle evening or middle of the day. And if you only do it once a day, often you meant, it may take a long time to discover what works for you. Try it twice a day, or, or even more gives you more, more of that flexibility.

But also by doing things more than once a day, you get to practice one of the really, really hard things about meditation, which is actually getting there. Meditation is not hard once you arrive. Right. I mean, that's a different business. I'll come onto that in a moment.

But actually getting from your bed to your chair or your studio, cushion or from the television to the bed or from, because in the mode in bed or in front of television, you're in a sort of doing mode in which you're either snatching some relaxation or you're working hard. And whether you're snatching relaxation, you think, Oh, I don't want to do the meditation now because I'm relaxing, or I don't want to do the meditation because I've got too much on. And those two things, the snatching a little bit of what you call downtime, but often it's just slouching from the television. So I think that. practicing twice a day, gives you more chance at practicing the hard thing, which is that making that switch.

Once you're there in your special place, where you sit on a cushion, on a stool, and of course you don't have to have a cushion or a, or a stool, a chair is perfectly good for people meditating. The first time it's useful to put a cushion under themselves so that their, their hips are slightly higher than their knees and their feet can be flat on the floor and the back can be self-supporting, but that can be done with an ordinary chair. You don't have to do anything special. But that sense of just transferring from one mode to the other and just sitting there is really important. Once you get there, then you can decide how long to stay.

Switch on the tape, switch on the CD, download the stuff and, and be there for it. And then the other thing is not to worry if your mind wanders. A lot of people who begin meditation for the first time, think this is to try to clear my mind. And actually the media often gives that message, partly through it's photographs of monks or beautiful women at the top of mountains who look completely blissed out. And you can't believe that actually what might be going through their head is Ow, this stone is a bit hard or I feel a bit hungry, cause they look so blissed out.

It looks as if their mind is empty. And often you'll see articles in the press about learn to meditate and clear your mind. And actually, so when people sit and their mind wanders all over the place, I think I can't do this. I can't do this. But actually mind wandering is indeed needed for the practice.

So that if your, if your mind didn't wander, it would be a bit like going to the gymnasium and finding there's nothing, no equipment in the room. There's nothing to practice on, you know. If going to the gym and finding an empty room, you'd probably want your money back. Yeah. So when you meditate the mind starts to wander and that's like the gymnasium equipment.

That's what you're going to be practicing on because the mind wandering is going to give you all sorts of micro challenges. They may not be huge things your mind is preoccupied with. But the mind has a really good way of just reminding you of all the things you've forgotten to do, for example, and making you feel like, unless you do them now, you'll forget them again. So those sort of challenges come up, you get that sort of sense. So that's where, that's, the, the practice is noticing that, noticing you've got a bit lost.

Waking up and escorting your mind back. That sort of attentional muscle training, you might say, is the, is the cornerstone or the foundation of mindfulness, using the body as the, as the foundation because you can't leave home without the body. It's always there for you. And using the body to learn to attend on the breath or on the sensations in the body. And then the mind will wander, bring it back, mind wanders.

So the going away and coming back is actually the practice. And if you could sit there and there was nothing in your mind, then you wouldn't have the practice you need to have. Right. So knowing that that's completely normal and not a sign of failure, but it's just part of the practice. Yeah.

It's part of the practice. It's what gives you the practice. Many very senior mindfulness teachers are very aware their mind wanders all the time and as you get more and more practiced at, it's not that your mind doesn't wander, it's that there's an ease of returning a sense of self-forgiveness, a sense of cultivating compassion for yourself. And, and I suppose the other thing I'd say that the challenges is that even when you notice the mind has gone and you bring it back, what I'd suggest that people look very gently and carefully at how they're bringing the mind back. Are they sort of pulling it back in a rather abrupt away, almost with a frown on their face as if a naughty child was being, you know, pulled away from the biscuit tin? And are you treating yourself as if something's gone wrong? As if you've done something naughty and you better get, you better get your mind, your mind back on the breath before anybody notices.

That you're, you know, you're not there. And so that sense, that's easy to get that sense of sort of contraction around it. So in order to to do the opposite, when you notice your mind has gone, just spend a few moments noticing where it went, acknowledging where it went. Perhaps even being amazed and wondering at the mind and cherishing your mind. You won't have your mind forever.

So cherish the fact that here's the mind doing its thing. Isn't that fantastic? But that's not what you would intend to be doing. So now you're going to very gently escort the mind back to the, where you had intended it to be. Perhaps settling yourself in the body first, before going back to the breath. So rather than going, my mind's gone.

Now back to the breath, which is narrow, narrow. Maybe go to the body first and then gather it back to the breath. So it's one graceful movement of acknowledgement and bringing back with a sort of sense of compassion and, and, and then really you're getting the practice you need to get. Yeah. I'm so glad that you brought that up because it makes such a huge difference in the whole tone of, of practice, doesn't it? It can really just be this feeling of struggling and striving and pulling and pushing at the mind, or it can be, you know, like you say, light and easeful and, and yeah.

That;s it. I'm really glad that you, that you brought that up. Yeah. Indeed we're in, when we developed a sort of mini meditation that would be portable for people who do MBCT, the three-minute breathing space. We deliberately, although we called it the breathing space, it's actually not going to the breath as the first step.

It has three steps. And the first step is about acknowledging what's going on. Because if there would be a danger that if you said, oh, things are going a bit wrong. Right? Take a breathing space, go to the breath. What you're doing is simply changing what you're focusing on.

You're, you were focused on that now you're focused on the breath. Changing what you focused on doesn't necessarily change how you are focusing on it. So this speaks to what you just, what you just said about the nature of the going away and the coming back. How you treat your mind. Do you treat your mind with friends, with friendliness, with, with, with a friendship.

And so the sense of the three-minute breathing space of pausing and acknowledging what's going on in mind and body right now brings an approach quality to your experience. Before then you do step two, which is gathering the mind. Yeah. And, and, and, and settling the mind. But even then, we don't go back into the world before we've done step three, because that gathering is great, but that's a fairly narrow focus.

And if, again, if you took that out into the world, you might go back out into the world with a narrow focus. So we ask people at step three, before they finish the breathing space, to expand to the whole body. So that that's a more open stance. And then what they, what they take back out into the world is a stance of openness and spaciousness. A sort of more a being mode than a doing mode.

So that's why the breathing space has these three elements, these three steps to it deliberately to cultivate a different attitude to the self and the world, rather than just give your, give your thinking mind a break. Right. Yeah. And I love, I love the three-minute breathing space, not only because it's a really wonderful way to bring mindfulness into any moment, really in, in, in your day, you can do a breathing space. But what I really like about it is that it's really wonderful in those moments where we do find ourselves a little bit revved up or a little bit caught up.

It's such a wonderful way of bringing mindfulness and embodying the present moment. It has such a wisdom in that. And I was, I was wondering if, if you would care to maybe give us an experience of the, of the breathing space. Would you guide us through a little experience? Okay. Yeah.

So wherever people are watching this, maybe just adjusting the posture. Allowing the eyes to close, if you want to. But just lowering your gaze, if you don't want to close your eyes, if that feels uncomfortable for you. And then in this change of posture, that's already a sign of stepping out of automatic pilot. And then moving into step one of the breathing space.

Acknowledging what's going on in mind and body right now. What thoughts are around? Any feelings? Any body sensations? What do you notice? And don't try to make anything different about how things are. Simply acknowledging. Allowing things to be just as they are for this moment. A sense of noticing the weather pattern in the mind and body right now.

And then allowing this to fade into the background and moving to step two, gathering the attention and allowing the attention to settle on the breath. Maybe the breath down in the abdomen. Noticing the rising of the in-breath, falling away on the out-breath. Not trying to control the breath in any way. Allowing the breath to breathe itself.

And if the mind wanders, simply acknowledging where it went and gently escorting it back to the breath. And then moving to step three of the breathing space, expanding the attention to the body as a whole sitting here. Noticing all the sensations from the crown of the head to the bottom of the feet and right up to the surface of the skin. Noticing any and all sensations in this body sitting here, breathing. A sense of coming home to the body.

And as best we can, bringing this sense of open spaciousness to the next few moments of our day. And when you're ready, moving fingers and toes. Allowing the eyes to open if they've been closed. And taking in your surroundings again. So that was the three minute breathing space.

That's amazing that three minutes can be very refreshing. As you were saying? Yes. People sometimes call it the three-step breathing space, because if you keep that structure - there's an open start, the narrow middle, and the open base. It's like an hour glass. Start open then gets narrower and then open again.

And you can keep that three point structure. We even use step one, step two, step three, to remind ourselves that it's three steps to it. So it doesn't all get mushed together. And then of course it can be, it can be five minutes or it can be three breaths. So you can take all 10 minutes, whatever.

You can have your whole meditation, however long it is in those three sections of the sense of acknowledging, then the sense of gathering and then a sense of opening. But when you're out and about, you know, getting onto a busy tube train or going into a classroom where you've got a difficult situation to meet or whatever, you can take three breaths with a sense of acknowledging, gathering, opening. Yeah. Wow. Just as a way of just touching in, in those moments.

Yeah. It's wonderful to have that structure to work with. Thank you so much for sharing that. And one of, one of the other things in the book that I really appreciated, you know, when we're talking about autopilot before. You introduced in, in the mindfulness book, you introduced what you call habit releasers.

And I really love those. Just, and they're just, they're so simple, just little things that we can do right everyday to be more awake and embodied and, and to switch out of autopilot mode. So would you care to share with us what a habit releaser is and maybe some examples of how we could use them? Okay. So habit releasers are addressing one of the issues that much of our automaticity, our automatic pilot is shown in the fact that we do the same thing day in, day out in the same way. Now, we brush our teeth with the same hand and we put the other hand in the same place, wherever that is.

I mean, I don't know whether you know exactly what happens to your left hand when you're brushing your teeth with your right. And where's the hand, you know. That's right. But so it takes very simple situations to say, what about deliberately, just for a day or two, doing it differently. So for example, sitting in a different sort of chair at the table at home.

Yeah. Or in your in your lounge or sitting room or the drawing room, or on the bus or on the, on the cab, do you always sit on the left-hand side of the right-hand side, the back or the front? Maybe just do something different. See, see what you notice about doing things different. So they can be as small as that. Or when you go for a walk look up for a moment.

I mean, if it's safe to do so. Yeah. Just stop and look up, maybe and look at the tops of buildings rather than the ground. We're so used to actually being in a sort of a L S, Lowry sort of position, the artist who had all his figures bent double, almost double looking at the ground. What about, you know, standing uprightly here.

But there are other things that are take more arrangement, but to be spontaneous, like going to the cinema, perhaps with a friend, but not trying to find out what's on before you get there. So, you know, when we were teenagers maybe, we would go out with friends and we would just say, let's go to the cinema. And we didn't know then, because there wasn't any internet to find out what was going on. So you just turn up at the cinema. You just have to turn up and see what was on.

And so it's really interesting to just go. And as soon as you almost decided to do it, you can feel the thinking going on, say, Oh dear, what if it's a bad film? What if I won't enjoy it? What a waste of time, if it's, you know. Well, most cinemas have about nine screens these days. So there's one that's bound to be something which is tolerably okay. Even if it, even if it's Bambi.

So interestingly, my daughter and I did this, we just, you know, when, when the book was being written, I said to my daughter, come on, let's just go to the local cinema. And we went there and yeah, there was, there was a film starting in about 45 minutes that looked quite interesting. One of the things we discovered is the staff these days who are mostly the ticket sellers are also the staff that sell the popcorn and they don't know what films are on or anything about them, which is what one discovery we made. The second thing is it was happening in 45 minutes. So we had to go and find a place to have a drink or a bite to eat.

So we discovered that as well. And then we saw this film that. I, which was really enjoyable, but I would have never got to see that film normally. It would have passed me by. So there's a sort of sense of getting the spontaneity back.

But, but most of the things are very small things. I mean, another example is learning to value the television. Yeah. I love that. Now you might say that.

Good gracious. Surely, surely we should, if we're mindful, we should put the television off and never watch it again. But value the television actually switching it on when you want to watch it and switching it off when that program's finished and then going to, unless there's something else you want to watch later in the evening, switch it on again. Right. So you don't have the thing just playing in the background, just going.

So it's, you know, if you want to, if you want to just slouch in front of television all evening, then fine. Make that decision and do so. And you can channel hop all evening, but at least you've made the decision. Yeah, at least you've made a conscious choice that I'm going to sit here for three hours and I'm going to channel flick. And this exactly.

So that's my nourishment for that you made a conscious choice. But mostly we don't make a conscious choice. We just discovered that that's where we are. And under those circumstances, it's quite nice just to turn it off, make a new choice and then turn it on again, if you want to. And that's what we call valuing the TV and what it offers rather than just taking it all for granted.

So those are the little habit releasers, which take things that we do automatically and just shift them very slightly in order to help help us support the idea of waking up. Yeah. I love that because it it's, it's very kind towards ourselves as well. I feel that that's kind of, you know, it can, it's so easy to get into, ah, I'm not supposed to watch TV and I'm not supposed to eat that kind of food. And I'm a bad person if I do this and this.

But just changing the way that we relate to those things can, change just sometimes happen by themselves or we just relate to that thing in a different way. Enjoy it more. And. Yeah. Absolutely.

I have an, I have an eight year old grandson who loves mixing foods and drinks and stuff. Yeah. It's really nice to see him say, what would it be like if I took that ripe pina and put some of this orange juice and some of this mango juice and, you know. And we, the adults are going, I don't know. But there's something really beautiful about what would it be like.

And there's only one way to find out. There's only one way to find out. So although I said, you know, shifting the ideas, in fact, it's shifting the experience. I mean, it's not just ideas that shift, it's the, it's the experience of actually being kind to yourself. And, and shifting a little bit of, of the moment to moment living in these tiny ways.

That's what the habit releasers are about. I love that. Thank you for sharing that. And gosh, I feel like I could talk to you all night. And I have so many questions that I would love to ask, but I would love, if you feel so inclined, it would be wonderful to have you take us through a practice of mindfulness so that we kind of can experientially...

I know we did the breathing space, but maybe another, just simple mindfulness practice, just kind of taking us through the basics would be most wonderful. Okay. Yeah. Well, let's do something like the the eight minute meditation, which is the one from Week One of the book, The Frantic World book. And this is a brief body scan, scanning through the body, settling down on the breath and allowing people to really gather themselves as, as an entree into, into mindfulness.

Okay. So once again, if you find a place to sit or you can lie down, if you want to. And allowing the eyes to close or the gaze to be lowered. And tuning into this body sitting or lying here. Perhaps starting by taking the attention right down to the soles of the feet.

Noticing what's happening when your attention gets there. Maybe some sense of tingling or warmth or coldness in the soles of the feet. Not trying to make anything happen, but simply registering what's already here in the feet. What sensations change from moment to moment and what sensations stay the same? And if there are no sensations, just simply registering a blank. So there's no right or wrong way to feel.

Whatever your experience is your experience. And expanding this quality of attending to both feet as a whole, not just the soles of the feet, but the tops, the toes, the heel, and perhaps extending to the ankle as well. So you're holding both feet center stage in your awareness. And then expanding this attention to the lower leg, below the knee. So your feet and lower legs held in awareness.

What sensations are here right now? And then the knees. And including the thighs as well. So focusing on both legs. What sensation are here? If you're sitting, you may notice the slight pressure of hands on your lap or on your thighs, the ground under the feet, the thighs sitting on the chair. And maybe imagine that your legs were empty and as you breathe in, the breath could fill up the legs all the way down to the feet on the in-breath.

And then it could empty out on the out-breath just imagine if that, that were possible. And what would it feel like if your legs were empty and could fill up with breath on the in-breath and empty on the out-breath? Just playing with that experience for a few breaths. And then taking a deeper breath. And on the out-breath, letting go of the legs and coming to the waist, the hips, the pelvis, the buttocks on the chair. What sensations are here? And then expanding the attention to the abdomen, the chest.

Around the back. The lower back, the middle and the upper back. Now including the shoulders as well. The hands and the arms. So the whole of the upper body.

Held in awareness, cradled in awareness. And extending this now to the neck and head as well. You may notice as you breathe in and out, there are some sensations in the nose, the nostrils. So now tuning into these sensations. So the sensations of the whole body are in the background, but in the foreground, sensations of breathing.

In breath. And the out-breath. Perhaps noticing the slight coldness on the in-breath in the, in the nose. A greater warmth of the breath as it passes out on the out-breath. Now, if you choose, you may also like to notice what's happening in the chest as you breathe.

So shifting attention from the nose to the chest and seeing if there are any sensations here with the in-breath and the out-breath. Maybe a slight sense of expansion on the in-breath. And letting go on the out-breath. See if that's true for you. And you may also want to extend this by shifting attention to the abdomen and seeing whether there are any sensations in the abdomen, in the belly, as you breathe in and as you breathe out.

And choosing one place where you'd like to follow the breath or a few more minutes now, either at the nose, the nostrils or the chest or down in the abdomen, in the belly. Just settling in, in one of these places and just noticing the sensations that occur as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Every breath unique, slightly different. See if we can be here for it. And if the mind wanders, noticing where it went and then very gently bringing it back to the breath.

Escorting it back without giving yourself a hard time. Nothing's gone wrong. This is the practice. The mind goes, we notice it, we bring it back, over and over and over again. And so in this way, cultivating stillness and reminding ourselves that the stillness of which we speak is not the stillness of the quiet mind, because your mind may not be quiet today.

Your body may not be quiet or still. It's rather the stillness of allowing things to be as they are in this moment. And using this practice moment by moment and day by day to practice cultivating this sense of, of kindness to the mind and the body, of allowing things to be as they are. A sense of befriending the body and mind. And now beginning to move your fingers and toes.

And if your eyes have been closed, allowing them to open and taking in your surroundings again. Thank you for that. Thank you. Hm. And I just have two final questions for you.

And the first one is simply this. You know, I think I heard Joseph Goldstein say recently that he believes that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. And so my question to you is, from your perspective, as somebody who is, has practiced mindfulness and watch that unfold in their life and, and watch the results unfold in the lives of many other people, what do you think would happen if mindfulness were to really hit critical mass? I'm talking, you know, a billion or 2 billion people. What kind of a world do you think that would create? What kind of changes would we see? I think if mindfulness could sustain itself at that sort of level and to stay at its essential qualities of compassion and friendship, I mean, a moment of mindfulness in the ancient traditions, a moment of mindfulness never came without a moment, moment of compassion, joy, equanimity, and kindness. They came, they come as a family.

And one can teach oneself mindfulness, either through mindfulness itself or through cultivating joy or equanimity or kindness or compassion, and the others will come. They're all part of the same family. And yet that moment can so easily pass. I mean, it does pass. It's only this moment.

And mindfulness at the moment, even where it's really taking hold, can easily give rise to a sort of a faddishness like a panacea. Mindfulness is a great new thing. Everybody should be doing it. And those sorts of, that sort of sense of frenetic let's get mindfulness. I think that will pass.

And the question then will be after the froth has gone and the tide has gone out, as it will, what would be left on, what will be left on the beach and will that be able to be slowly maintained. So, but there are some indications that even for those who are learning mindfulness now doing eight week programs, for example, that that is changing prisons, it's changing young offenders. We're teaching mindfulness in Parliament in the United Kingdom now. A Congressman has written a book in America, The Mindful Nation. Tim Ryan.

One of our, one of our own MPs has been across the Dutch Parliament to tell them about mindfulness in Parliament. The European parliament, the, are learning mindfulness now are being offered mindfulness. In British Parliament, by the time the election happened a few weeks ago, 10% of the parliamentary Labour Party had done a mindfulness course, 10%. And they are very interested in introducing mindfulness into the health system, into the criminal justice system, into the education system. Not based on an idea that it's a good idea or just the evidence, but on their own experience of the transformation that they've experienced.

That's the difference doing it on the basis of your own sense that this is really, really valuable. And that the world has become something that needs this sort of ancient Asian wisdom of cultivating a different approach to life than just aspirational, you know, we want to, you know, what we want what we haven't got. So, and so a number of things have happened. Wellbeing has been put in the, in the agenda in the UK government anyway. Yeah.

And so that, that, that all government departments have to give an account of what they're doing on the wellbeing agenda, which is important. So that's one sector, the, the governmental parliamentary sector. So, but part of the agenda for parliament may well be to introduce mindfulness in schools, for example. That's one place where you can teach mindfulness to a whole cohort. Yeah.

In small ways at an age where kids really get it and really enjoy it. And the Mindfulness in Schools program, which we've just been given a big grant to evaluate is going ahead. Mark Greenberg's work in the Penn State with Trish Broderick, Broderick, and, uh, and Tish Jennings is also teaching teachers how to be mindful and then their children as well. And the outcomes are great. And what teachers are now saying is why did we never realize that we told our children to pay attention without teaching them how to pay attention.

And it's not just, well, this is a soft skill they need, if there's, if there's, if there's time in the timetable, but mindfulness and paying attention is actually foundational to all learning. Of course. Yeah. You can't learn trigonometry and calculus if you're not attending. So attention is fundamental.

So that's, what's happening in schools. But the other things are, what do we do about adults? Well, one thing is mindfulness is spreading as a treatment for depression and depression is going to affect 20% of us in our lives. That's a billion people on the planet/ and often the people who are most likely to be depressed in virtually every country are the poorest, most isolated, most alienated, most helpless, the people that get forgotten. One of the challenges will be making mindfulness available, not just for those who can afford to pay to go to a retreat center. But so it's actually built into the educational social system for the poorest to enable them to have the resources to be able to solve problems.

Not just because they get a helping hand, which they need anyway, but because they have a more active problem solving, a wiser, more insightful approach in their own lives as well. So depression, the depression work, I think is potentially extremely important that it's, it's a huge burden and it's a burden born by, by the poorest and the most isolated and the forgotten in our society. And I think the third thing is CEOs. Mindfulness is now taught routinely at Davos in the early morning, in early morning sessions. I was there a couple of years ago.

John Kabat-Zinn was there last year. There's nothing else scheduled that time. People turn up and, and do mindfulness if they want to. And Janice Marturano, who's the head of the Institute for Mindful Leadership in New York, teaches CEOs and leaders, how to in her, title of her book, Finding the Space to Lead. And the accounts she gives of the moving sense in which busy, busy CEOs suddenly discover that there's a world outside the project, the biggest project they're working on, that it has examples of CEOs suddenly seeing the stars in the sky.

It sounds trivial. But it's. It's momentous. Now we know the world of work has gone crazy over the last 20, 30 years. There was a time when people would work eight hours a day.

And if they worked longer than that, they would get paid overtime, which is acknowledged in their pay packet. And then suddenly that became old-fashioned and it became a sort of a union thing. And now that's old fashioned. And, and that happened at the same, when the unions were getting sorted out by Facton and Reagan and the, the politicians, unfortunately, what was also happening was a sort of sense of the sense of excellence means working as many hours as you'd like to work, modeling the whole world on a few entrepreneurs and startups in Silicon Valley who had the sort of brain who maybe could work 80 hours a week, And you mix all of that with technology so we can be constantly connected. Exactly so.

So it's interesting to think now that every generation has to rediscover that after about eight hours, your brain goes to sleep. Even if your bum's still on the chair at work, your brain is not active. And that you can be more productive if you take rests. Now, Henry Ford, exactly a hundred years ago in 1915, increased the salaries of his workers and cut their working hours and saw an increase in productivity. And in the decades that followed other large firms, saw what he had done, in Ford, and followed suit.

We now need some really influential top companies to say, that after about 40 hours a week, certainly 45 to acknowledge that you are no longer, it's an illusion of productivity. And if you take breaks, you're actually get more productivity, more creativity, and a better bottomline. And until somebody really influential says that and doesn't, and we're not all trapped in this sense of, if you go home at the normal time, somehow you're a loser. Right. We have to this.

I mean, I felt the same, you know, and I was running departments and so on. You could feel the pressure to want to be the last person to leave. And there's always somebody with their light on. And, and you know, it may be so just left the light on by the state. Oh my gosh.

I'm not leaving until that light goes off. It becomes a pernicious thing. And every generation has got to relearn, relearn that actually your brain can't function. And when people stopped doing factory work and started moving into doing desk work, people thought, Oh, well that now they can work 80 hours. Actually the evidence is slightly the other way.

That whereas you can go for a factory for eight hours without doing damage and bringing the whole assembly line to a, to a stop because of an error that you made because you were too tired. Actually, it's probably more like six and seven hours of desk work that your brain, because the brain actually needs to take a rest pause. And if it doesn't, it will take an involuntary rest pause. And if, you know, it will just clam up on your, your brain will go cloudy. Yeah.

Then we get foggy, the foggy brain phase. Absolutely. So by taking rests during the day, and then having good nourishment in evening and weekends, that's really important. If, if not, that it has to be built in somehow. And if, if, if mindfulness can do that CEO by CEO, company by company, if it can do it to Google, and there's no point saying, well, we now give, we now give free donuts and meditation spaces in order that people can work through the mat.

That's not the issue. It's actually saying, we pay you to work and we pay you to take breaks. And until a company like Google has taken that seriously, then the rest of us are going to have a hard time changing it. So I think there's clinical world, there's the world of CEOs and the parliamentary world. And to maintain the incentive for practicing mindfulness, even when the froth has died down and it's no longer a fad, that will be the acid test.

And then I think Joseph is right, we'll change the world one by one. But the one by one, isn't just the, the poor person or the disadvantaged, but the person who seeks to employ them and the person who seeks to employ that and the government ministers and the council officials and so on. Yeah. That's I think, yeah. And at the end of our lives, when you and I are going to be somewhere looked after by somebody else, maybe a family member, maybe a assistant care worker, will that care worker be valued enough, paid enough and mindful enough to look after us with compassion.

That's what we'd like. Cause you and I, aren't going to have a mind there to be able to argue back. It's no good for me to say to a, to a care worker. You know, I used to be a professor at Oxford. Yes, dear.

I would be scared. Now let's get you washed. Yeah, yeah. That's the point. That's the reality of the end of our lives.

Now these are end of life care. Are we going to be looked after by people who we respect now so that we can, we, you know, so we are, we're looking after the people that are ignored? That's the critical thing that would be the acid test of a compassionate society. Yeah. Thank you so much. And I, I hope that we have the pleasure of seeing some of that potential paradigm shift happen.

It will be, it would be a beautiful thing to, to, to see unfolding. We'll we'll see. It's an adventure. It is indeed. It's an adventure.

So yeah. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close? No, I don't think so. I was just thinking of all the things that. I mean, one of the interesting things, I think about eight week programs that people often say, well, do I need to go to a class or can I do it by myself? It looks like you can do either. Some people prefer to get things online or to read the book.

Other people prefer to go to a class. And I think that's good. And at the eight week, cause you know, you talked about sticking at it. I think it's worth it because, partly because there's a narrative structure to the eight week course, you know. People are offered different meditations for addressing different issues.

Week by week, people look at different aspects of how this, the mode of mind that actually doesn't serve us very well. Also it's science. How do we know that it's there? And how do we know that that mind-state has, has volunteered for a job it can't do? And that needs a bit of time to work out. So, so I think it starts with the automatic pilot, but then there's noticing you're living in your head and noticing you're wanting things to be different all the time, or noticing you're trying to suppress some stuff. And so there's lots of different things.

So that's why I think it's useful for people to take these things and just stick at them for eight weeks and see how it, how, how it all works out for them. And I wish them very well in, in their, in the adventure of discovering this practice. Thank you so much. And thank you all for watching.

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