In our constantly buzzing world are we ever really far from distraction? It has become increasingly important to stop, unwind and find that elusive centre, the very notion of which suggests something is out of alignment in our lives. This is not a condition restricted to the modern world as humans have been seeking balance since the development of language skills. With that, the capacity for comprehension, situational and spiritual awareness expanded exponentially. We can plan ahead, reflect on situations and relate them to our personal circumstances. While an evolutionary leap, it also had a side effect – stress.
Vipassana meditation literally means ‘through perception’ or mindfulness and is an ancient and effective method of dealing with stress, believed to be the oldest of all Buddhist meditation practices. Religious scholars believe Buddha, the man himself, developed and propagated the practice.
Unlike other types of meditation, vipassana focuses inwards rather than on external items such as a candle flame, or the sound of flowing water. Mindfulness aids relaxation by training our minds to not only be aware, but also attentive, which is actually perfect for the modern man. It helps improve concentration at work, or bring our attention back when we are distracted (for example, when sports are in front of us on the television). Our biological composition means we tend to focus on the immediate task at hand.
Men have their own set of complications. We tend to have more pent-up issues due to societal expectations of masculinity, exacerbated by and often confused with machismo. According to Sebastian Droesler, counselling psychologist, mindfulness trainer and life coach, this confusion can oftentimes lead to damaging habits including distractions such as games and silly competitions, and numb-seeking behaviour, such as alcohol, drug abuse and meaningless sex. To avoid this, men need to maintain focus and attention, while increasing awareness.
“We need both!” says Hong Kong-based Droesler. “Focus alone will not help you in the long run. You can be an excellent sniper, but get killed by the enemy sneaking up behind you. Or in Hong Kong terms, you can be single-handedly operating your business, but if you can’t anticipate your wife’s needs, you will suffer my friend. We all have been there and felt inadequate in the relationships where it matters most.”
Mindfulness meditation is traditionally practised in a seated position, in peace and quiet. But in this modern age, how can we just focus? According to Droesler, men already do to a certain extent. “You can practise mindfulness while moving. Mindful walking meditations are great ways to develop skills,” says Droesler.
Have you ever gone for a solo run and found yourself completely void of thoughts and in the zone? Or perhaps bench-pressing at the gym, and intently focused on the contractions in your chest muscles with each lift? Those moments of clarity when you focus on nothing else but the task at hand are a close nexus to early stages of mindfulness meditation. Eastern martial arts have long taken advantage of combining absolute concentration of physical movement to train the mind to streamline thoughts.
Mindfulness does more than just improve focus. A 2012 study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found employees who participated in a ‘Mindfulness at Work’ programme showed marked improvements in performance. It can also enhance emotional well-being, as evidenced by a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study in 2014 which demonstrated that 30 minutes of mindful meditation a day appeared to alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms as effectively as antidepressants.
The male tendency towards emotion avoidance often leads to bottling up fears and agitation. Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of them, which helps develop stronger emotional intelligence through understanding our own triggers, while better understanding the needs of others. This often translates in the home, where we learn to empathise more with our partners. Persistent mindfulness practice can therefore lead to better relationships – in and out of the bedroom!
As with anything in life you can be mindful or mindless about it. Perhaps it is time we confront and acknowledge the distractions of our modern lives, and learn to find our centre.