We all know that we need to sleep well, eat well, stress less, and exercise. But, according to Ellen Langer, what we need above all is to do everything in life in a mindful way. Much more than a practice, mindfulness is a state, a choice in life of being present, attentive and complete at all times.
Everything we’ve learned in life has been explained to us by someone. The problem is that after we learn something in a given context, it becomes much more difficult for us to unlearn it or see it in a different way. Essentially, whenever we consider a concept we’ve learned in our life, we think of our idea or opinion formed beforehand; then, our mind no longer needs to deal with it and we move on. How? We act automatically. The problem we are having now is that such “automatic responses” present a trap we set for ourselves. We are surrounded by readymade concepts that make us think about everything based on them. But who will guarantee that these concepts are right or the same in all contexts?
When a school child says that one plus one does not equal two, for example, is it really wrong? The truth is that this child should be questioned: how did he/she reach this conclusion? After all, the child could be using a different concept from the obvious numbers adopted in the Western Hemisphere. The state of mindfulness reminds us that there is more than one right answer to almost everything.
It includes everything we learn about who we are, what we are able to accomplish, what we can do, and what we believe.
By not practicing mindfulness implies a state of idle mind, in which we blindly trust in distinctions and categories received in the past. We’re almost like robots following predetermined orders without questioning. This opposite state, compared to mindfulness, is where we find ourselves most of the time, observing things from a single perspective, which we may even know. In this state, rules or routines that may or may not make sense determine things. Of course, we can have rules and routines in life, but they should guide what we do, not determine what we do. With mindfulness, we question everything, because everything becomes less absolute.
This may seem scary, but it’s real, it’s part of the nature of the world; everything is always changing. Things change when they are analyzed from different perspectives, at different moments, in different circumstances. When we recognize that, our idea of certain responses change significantly and we realize that all absolute things have been accepted without questioning and have imposed unnecessary limits. This applies to anything we do in life.
To accept the uncertain, we should start observing things actively. When we experience a different situation, it is much easier to get in touch with this reality and, therefore, it is easier to practice mindfulness. If we are performing an activity for the first time, such as traveling to a place we have never been before, then we have many questions and uncertainties, we have to think before we act. We do not act automatically and we make the most of every moment. The secret is to keep this sensation in our daily life, which is not necessarily new, but that can always have something different or uncertain. When we are in a state of mindfulness, we notice new things that surface to us even in old and familiar situations. These are our neurons making connections and feeling alive.
Mindfulness sets us free from the mindset of a single view – right or wrong, according to rules created without questioning – as we experience opportunities we can evolve and create things. Better yet, when we learn the difference between indeterminate and uncontrollable, our view of the world changes and we discover that the impossible does not exist. When science or other people say “it is impossible,” they actually mean “no one has done it yet.”
MINDFULNESS AND A NEW WAY TO CONSIDER HEALTH
Ellen presented a new vision of health, which considers a united mind and body. For her, mind and body are just words, as they are just one.
If our mind is healthy, our body will be healthy too.
It applies, for example, to the way the mind works after the age of 70, 80 years. People who are treated as unable end up transforming their bodies, growing old fast, and soon become like their minds. Old people who are encouraged to do things can produce more. They look younger, feel better, and live longer.
Several studies presented by Ellen reported that we shouldn’t define ourselves by our age or the disease we have. Once we assume a role, our body will also assume it. The truth is that we are better than we believe we are. In the right context, with the right mindset, we can take the best parts of ourselves. We have power over us, and over our diseases.
It’s easy to practice mindfulness: first, we should realize that we don’t know anything and assume that no one else knows anything; therefore no one has power over us, except ourselves and our beliefs. We will assume the size of our beliefs. Then, we should forget about acting automatically and start living to the fullest extent we can. When we feel present, we are complete. We are seen and we see ourselves with more charisma, enjoying better health and happiness. We are more alive.