Mindfulness. Paying attention. Simple, right? And yet those chattering monkeys in our heads are always nagging us to do something here, remember there, dwell on other. It has never been easy to stay focused on exactly where we are, what we are doing, when we are being. In a world that encourages –nay, demands—that we multitask over breakfast, being mindful is practically a sin. Given that our society rewards the woman who can juggle email, carpooling and board meetings with admiration and awe, why would we want to slow down anyway?
Well, perhaps we would do that in order to ease chronic pain, reduce stress, and feel happier. Practicing mindfulness is a way to achieve all of those goals and more. Less familiar than, say, prescription painkillers and anti-depressants, mindfulness is nevertheless a scientifically-documented path to overall well-being.
This is not to say that becoming a mindful person is easy. Religious seekers have struggled with the concept for centuries, and the perceived connection between mind and spirituality has no doubt contributed to the general public’s confusion about and lack of interest in attaining mindful behavior. Susan Smalley and Diana Winston have done a tremendous service by writing Fully Present, a comprehensive manual that explains in layman’s language not only the supporting science behind mindfulness, but also the art and the how-to. “Mindfulness,” they write, “is a tool we can use to examine conceptual frameworks, to lessen the influence of preconceptions, and to experience ‘what is’ by choice rather than through drugs…”
As the authors make clear in Fully Present, there is no need to retire to a cave and contemplate your navel in order to engage in mindfulness. No, you can’t add it to your list of multitask skills; but yes, you can do it while driving, eating, or reading a balance sheet.
Fully Present details the steps (only four of them) to changing behavior. These are steps we might employ to break undesirable habits but also the steps that lead to learning new and productive habits, such as becoming more mindful in our daily activities.
Like every topic addressed in this book, the science and art of behavior change are explained, then the authors provide sensible and informed suggestions for putting that information into practice. Breathing, meditation, dealing with both physical and emotional pain and finding happiness receive full and thoughtful chapters that follow the format of science plus art plus practice.
There are certainly other books about mindfulness, and most of them are quite good. It is the authors’ backgrounds that give Fully Present its unique appeal. Diana Winston is a former Buddhist nun who teaches mindfulness, and Susan Smalley is a behavior geneticist and founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. Together they have the training and experience to give readers full-bodied guidance along with first-hand knowledge of the subject.
Because Fully Present is not a religious treatise, the book appeals to a wide audience. Down-to-earth tips reassure us that we needn’t adopt full lotus pose in order to meditate, that dozing off doesn’t make us failures, and that, in fact, we all have mindful moments that arise naturally, so we must be able to achieve that blissful state if we wish.
There are so many excellent reasons to develop mindfulness and an equal number of excuses for putting it off. Now that we have Fully Present as a gentle guide, we can no longer claim ignorance as one of those excuses.