Mindfulness is a relatively recent subject area in the field of mental health and scientific study. So, what defines Mindfulness? It is the name given to the mind's ability to pay attention to its own functioning, also being the name given to techniques that enable improvement in this capacity, resulting in better management of cognitive and emotional content. In a way, it is possible to say that Mindfulness enables a better interface between the person and their present experience. In this context, Mindfulness may have much to contribute to the world in which we now find ourselves – in quarantine, social isolation, confinement and plunged into uncertainty.
In addition to contemporary techniques, or rather, prior to current techniques and paradigms, a great source of knowledge for Mindfulness can be found in the contemplative practices of the Buddhist tradition, among others. This intersection is still a sensitive topic today, partly due to the way science harnesses this knowledge from cultures that seem so distant from our modern world.
Nonetheless, studies "prove" that many of these traditional practices are associated with great benefits. More than an apology for traditional means, or a comparison between the traditional and scientific, we seek here to find inspiration in this broad and varied tradition – Buddhism - (which, incidentally, has countless developments and different techniques originating from the various countries to which it was taken). Therefore, it seems worthwhile to remember two important aspects emphasised in the Buddhist tradition: Renunciation - giving up the excess of stimuli that leads to confusion; and Retreat - which is the practice of renunciation taken to the next level. Withdrawing means choosing to live in a restricted social environment and to have fewer activities in order to cultivate greater attention and have a larger commitment to practices that, scientifically, can be classified as Mindfulness.
The reason for this is simple: if we have fewer factors disturbing our mind, we can observe the mind itself more efficiently. Similarly, to playing a sport or using a tool, the more time we dedicate to it with as little distraction as possible, the better the results are, thus, when focused on knowing our mind we tend to progress in learning about our cognitive and emotional processes.
One of the most important factors determining quality and progress in Mindfulness is the teacher and the instructions received. Therefore, it is essential to choose well. In my case, as the author of this text and an instructor in Mindfulness, I undertook my training with professors Tamara Russell and Tiago Tatton. As an admirer of Buddhism, I visit two centres near my hometown of Porto Alegre, one a traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple called Chagdud Gonpa, and the other a CEBB Bodhisattva Center for Buddhist Studies - which gave me my first contact with the subject. I leave these references here that I had and have, because it is thanks to them that I achieved any benefit.
Returning to the present moment, the world has been forced to stop and reflect. Unlike a voluntary retreat, no one has chosen to be in this situation, yet this is the circumstance that presents itself: a great challenge from a cognitive and emotional viewpoint. We are living in a time of uncertainty about the future and our ability to remain calm and pay attention to our actions is crucial in this dynamic context. Perhaps, in this way, we will have conditions - albeit somewhat troubled - for the practice of Mindfulness, which can bring immense benefits at this time, such as greater tranquillity and concentration. After all, regardless of the situation we face, our contact with reality takes place through the mind, and this can be worked on in order to reduce suffering and make better decisions.
As for specific techniques, there is an infinity and each person will connect more with one than the other - the most classic being the focus on breathing and maintaining the body relaxed in an upright posture. However, nothing replaces the help and guidance a teacher can provide, whether in a secular or traditional context. Therefore, the need to choose a reliable teacher and to not become discouraged in practice is once again highlighted. Because, just like someone who learns a sport or starts playing an instrument, we may feel some discomfort or be out of tune at first, but that is part of learning. A teacher can direct us to more efficient ways to learn and minimise mistakes.
One can only imagine the possibilities generated by the practice of Mindfulness in space, having one less important stimulus - gravity. It is interesting to think what postures and techniques would be possible. This is a field that still needs study and research. But I think it can be assumed that, just as on Earth, the practice of Mindfulness can help in the well-being and concentration of socially isolated individuals floating in a dynamic environment.
May this text contribute to helping reduce the suffering and confusion in which we live. This transitional phase brings chaos and crisis, but it can also bring knowledge.