Hot on the heels of University Mental Health Day which took place on 2nd March 2017, Margaret McKay asked Sandy MacLean Inclusion Advisor at College Development Network to share some thoughts on the role of mindfulness in our digital world…..
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It is the mental faculty of purposefully bringing awareness to your experience in the present moment, whatever that may be. It can be applied to sensory experience, thoughts and emotions by using sustained attention and noticing our experience without reacting. Its origins sit firmly in the East but over the last 40 years it has increasingly been taught in a secular form and simplified to suit a Western context. There has never been as much interest in mindfulness as there is now, which is not surprising when you consider the turmoil, noise and information flow in our modern lives. They are two sides of the same coin.
Journey towards mindfulness
I have had a personal interest in mindfulness since my student days where I dipped in and out of mindfulness practices as a form of mental health first aid when the going got tough. It has only been in the last five years through both studying and training in mindfulness facilitation that I have embedded mindfulness practice into both my personal and professional life and see it amongst other things as both a life skill and a positive self-care strategy. At College Development Network we have run a series of experiential events and workshops focusing on the relevance of mindfulness both within an educational context and in the workplace.
Mindfulness and the modern world
For the last little while I have been pondering the relationship between mindfulness and our modern digital culture which is commonly presented as being in opposition to each other. In This is Happening, Rohan Gunatillake creator of the bestselling buddhify app puts the emphasis on embracing the importance of technology in our lives and using our devices as the basis of our wellbeing and not its nemesis. He talks about the story of mindfulness as being one of innovation and change, a flexible tradition that has a long tradition of re-imagining when it meets a new culture. He talks about avoiding ‘digital dualism’ and the artificial divide we make between off-line and on-line, the virtual and so called ‘real’ stressing that life isn’t like that. In addition the distinction is becoming increasingly redundant as more and more objects, from cars to central heating systems become connected to the internet.
Mindfulness for learning, life and work
Whether you are a student juggling academic challenges and student life or a member of staff trying to balance ever busier professional and personal lives digital mindfulness may be the key to protecting ourselves from being digitally overwhelmed. It’s not all about going on a digital detox but fostering small ways to adapt your use of technology to foster better connections.
So where do you start?
I found some useful pointers in Melli O’Brien’s blog which I have summarised below:
- Mindful Moments – as you are reaching for a device become still, pause, focus attention- take 3 deep breathes,
- Wise waiting – if you are on-hold waiting for the phone, a web page to come up, the computer to turn on – become still, relax into the moment,
- Unit tasking – the opposite of multi-tasking-do one task at a time-bring your full attention to that one thing,
- Digital awareness – become aware of the relationship between digital stimulation and how you feel – pause and notice how you feel – make wise choices to support your health and well-being so that you can respond rather than react,
- Mindful transitions – interacting with technology puts us in a state of hyper arousal – once you shut down your device or computer, pause and breathe,
- Unplug with awareness – take some time out of your schedule to unplug from your screens,
- Wake up calls – use the beeps, dings, buzzes of your devices as mindfulness triggers and a signal to come back to the moment creating space before you respond.
Digital mindfulness initiatives – what’s happening out there?
I am aware of mindfulness practitioners and mindfulness teachers facilitating sessions with both staff and students in colleges and universities across the UK, but am not aware of digital mindfulness initiatives over and above those at Edge Hill University highlighted by Margaret McKay in her blog Can the digital world help us harness positive mental health last year. If you are involved in blending the benefits of the digital world into mindfulness practice then please do consider sharing your experiences. We’d love to hear about any digital mindfulness initiatives taking place in your institution.