Modern Mindfulness: How to Be More Relaxed, Focused, and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-On World

Modern Mindfulness: How to Be More Relaxed, Focused, and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-On World

by Rohan Gunatillake

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In Modern Mindfulness, Rohan Gunatillake argues that to lead more mindful, calm and happy lives, switching off is the last thing we need to do. Instead he gives readers ideas, principles, and techniques to bring awareness, composure, and kindness whatever they are doing. Filled with over sixty practical exercises, the author’s mobile mindfulness approach gives the benefits of meditation to even the busiest of lives.

Ideas from Modern Mindfulness:
- Learn to fade out instead just falling asleep
- Learn to watch TV mindfully (yes, it’s possible!)
- Make mobility part of mindfulness (we’re always on the move!)
- Use technology for good instead of evil (no need to do a digital detox).
- Learn to “whack-a-thought” and stay centered

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250116420
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 671 KB

About the Author

ROHAN GUNATILLAKE is the creator of the buddhify app. Rohan is a trustee of the British Council, and, in 2012,Wired named him in their Smart List of 50 people who will change the world. He studied chemistry at Oxford. He lives in Glasgow with his wife and son.
ROHAN GUNATILLAKE is the creator of the buddhify app. Rohan is a trustee of the British Council, and, in 2012, Wired named him in their Smart List of 50 people who will change the world. He studied chemistry at Oxford. He lives in Glasgow with his wife and son.

Read an Excerpt

Modern Mindfulness

How to Be More Relaxed, Focused, and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always On World

By Rohan Gunatillake

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 Rohan Gunatillake
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-11642-0



Mindfulness needs a redesign.

There has never been as much interest in mindfulness and meditation as there is right now. A growing base of scientific research is providing substantial evidence for its benefits and effects. Leading companies are teaching it to their employees to manage stress. Elite athletes use it to stay calm and perform under pressure. Celebrities are taking it on as a must-have lifestyle accessory, and most important, people just like you are discovering how making mindfulness part of their lives can have a significantly positive impact. That's the good news.

The bad news is that despite all this, most people who have an interest in mindfulness do not actually go on to do anything about it. There are three main barriers that stop people moving mindfulness from a nice idea to a lived reality: the time problem, the hippy problem and the digital problem. As a maker of mindfulness-related products, these are actually the challenges that get me the most excited since they can all be overcome.

I just don't have time to meditate. This is the time problem. In an over-scheduled world with all our various commitments, finding a quiet ten or twenty minutes to dedicate to ourselves feels like an impossible task. So when we hear that to get the most out of mindfulness we have to do exactly that, of course it feels out of reach. If this is you, please don't worry. We'll solve the time problem.

You have to be spiritual or religious to get into meditation and that's just not me. This is the hippy problem. Mindfulness-based meditation does originate from the Buddhist tradition. And even though Buddhism has perhaps the best PR department out of all the major world religions, the spiritual aesthetic and other baggage tied up with mindfulness and meditation is a very real barrier for a lot of people. That's fine too. We will solve the hippy problem.

I live a very connected life and it's just not practical for me to unplug everything. This is the digital problem. Mindfulness and technology are commonly presented as being in opposition to each other. Too often we are told that the only way to be truly present and connected is to turn everything off. But in a world where our work, our lifestyle and our economy are so fundamentally dependent on technology, when it comes to our well-being we simply cannot afford to keep demonizing all things digital. But fear not. We will solve the digital problem as well.

This is a next-generation mindfulness book. It is for the millions of people who struggle to find space in the busyness of it all. It is for the millions of people all around the world who would love more awareness, more calm and more kindness in their lives. It is for the millions of people who have never felt that mindfulness or meditation was for them. This book is for you.

Notice what it feels like to read these opening paragraphs. Notice if any particularly strong thoughts or reactions have come up. Maybe there's some excitement. Maybe there's some doubt.

Notice if there are any clear physical sensations present in the body. Maybe you can notice what your breath is like right now. Or what the movements that make up blinking actually feel like. Or even the simple sensations you can feel from holding this book in your hands. This is going to be fun.

* * *

If you are the kind of person who can easily find time in your day for formal sitting meditation practice, don't have a problem with bald people in robes telling you what to do, and can give up using your digital devices, then congratulations. There are already plenty of good mindfulness and meditation approaches out there that will work for you. But the chances are that you're not. The three problems I mentioned previously are often thought of as just being facts of meditation life. That's what mindfulness is like, deal with it. This is just plain wrong and the reason why we need a mindfulness that is better designed for the realities of our modern lives.

The approach outlined in this book solves the time problem by reframing meditation primarily as a mobile activity — something we can do everywhere, not just when sitting on a cushion in a quiet space. It solves the hippy problem by understanding that while it certainly has religious roots, mindfulness has evolved and is now being used for reasons that are entirely new. It solves the digital problem by embracing the importance of technology in our lives and learning how to actually use our devices as the basis of our well-being, not its nemesis.

The alternative is that we simply carry on thinking about mindfulness in the same ways that we do today. If we do, then mindfulness will continue to be a minority sport. It will be a luxury, unavailable to the vast majority of people whose lifestyles and values do not fit with the conventional presentation. Given the growing evidence of how mindfulness practice can lead to so many different positive outcomes, that would be a real shame. Here is this awesome thing but, sorry, it's not for you.

As well as being a shame, it would be ignoring the fact that the story of mindfulness is one of innovation and change. Later on we'll look more closely at how mindfulness has evolved over time and also where it might go next. However, before starting out in our adventures into mindfulness, there is one big idea that it is worth you knowing. Mindfulness is a flexible tradition and it has a long history of reimagining itself every time it meets a new culture. The ways in which mindfulness is changing today are therefore just a natural next chapter as it adapts in response to things it has only recently met, such as neuroscience, psychology and digital technology.

Referring to the history of mindfulness and how it changes doesn't need to feel abstract. What we are actually talking about are individuals like you and me taking what has gone before and working out how best to apply that to the realities of our lives as they are right now. My own big breakthrough was when I discovered how to meditate in a time-poor world. It not only changed my understanding of mindfulness, it went on to change my whole life.

Finding the future of mindfulness on the way to work

I got into meditation during my last few months at university and upon graduation I moved back to London to begin work with a large technology consulting company. It was an exciting time all round. I was enjoying the energetic corporate lifestyle, making decent headway into my student debt, and my interest in mindfulness and meditation was really starting to take off. I had begun to look for classes and groups near me, and I was even considering going on a weekend retreat.

The problem was that I didn't have time to fit it all in. I'd had no such problems in my student life, where I could happily find a spare half hour. But it was entirely different now that I had been fast-tracked into the long-work-hours corporate culture. Even when I did find time for dedicated sitting meditation, I was often so tired that the quality of my attention and energy was such that I could not do it justice. So I was surprised when I found the solution to my problem on the Northern Line one Monday morning.

While all the routes of the London Underground have their challenges, the Northern Line is probably the most soul-destroying. And it is in the mornings that it is at its worst. Cities get a bad rap as lonely, disconnecting places at the best of times, but it's perhaps most clearly felt when traveling deep underground in a confined space, surrounded by strangers but very much alone. Most mornings on my half-hour ride from south London into the City, what I most clearly felt was the shoulder of another anonymous worker squashed expertly into my unsuspecting face.

On top of the normal frustrations of commuting, I was now particularly resentful of the Northern Line because it was taking away from my meditation time. Mornings were my favorite time to do sitting meditation. Not only was there the freshness of the recently woken-up mind, but mornings also provided me with a reliable sense of routine since I often had to work late and so didn't know what time I would be home. The problem now was that I was on a project that consistently required me to be in the office very early, and I just didn't have any time to do my sitting.

By some miracle that morning I had been able to snag a seat. So there I sat, wallowing in the woe-is-me story about losing my favorite time to meditate. The mind does love snowballing a tiny thought into a giant catastrophe, so I was of course also convinced that my job, which I loved, meant I would never be able to meditate properly again. It was all over.

The style of meditation I was doing at the time was one which is very commonly taught to people starting out. You pay attention to the physical sensations of the breath, and whenever your attention gets distracted, you just bring it back, developing both awareness and stability. The problem I now had while doing that on the Underground was that even with my eyes closed, there were just so many other physical sensations going on. All the shaking, noise, heat and constant bumping into my fellow passengers meant that I was not able to even find the breath at all, let alone stick with it. Frustration ran riot. I'm useless. The Tube is useless. Everything. Is. Useless.

It was in the middle of this self-pitying funk that the cartoon light bulb popped above my head. Since I was on the Tube at the same time of day that I used to do meditation at home, why not just do my meditation on the Tube instead? The journey was the same length as my normal meditation, and I was also sitting down. Who cares that the circumstances were a little unusual for meditation? Inspired by that insight, the next twenty or so minutes went on to completely change my understanding of what it is to meditate.

Just like that, the frustration disappeared. My realization that I could meditate anywhere if I really wanted to has underpinned my approach to mindfulness ever since. When keeping the mind on the breath, it is the mind — and our ability to keep our awareness present and in one place — that is the important thing, not the breath. When that became clear, I stopped worrying about holding my attention on the breath and was just aware of whatever was most tangible at the time. I became aware of what it was to sit in that moment. I felt the vibrations of the carriage and discovered angles and sensations I hadn't noticed before. I felt the way that my muscles reacted to how we were accelerating and decelerating. By taking care of how I was being aware rather than what I was being aware of, there was a natural level of non-distraction.

I then opened my attention out and began listening to the sounds around me. With my mind open and relaxed I noticed how the various sounds came into my awareness without me having to do anything, just as they did when I would do my more conventional formal meditation. Opening my eyes and looking at my fellow passengers, I even noticed that there was a quiet sense of gratitude. I recognized it as the same feeling I had at the end of a group meditation class — because, although they may not have meant to, they had played their part.

My understanding of meditation had changed forever.

Defining the M word

There is often a lot of confusion about what mindfulness and meditation actually are. Are they the same thing? Are they different? Are they both the same and different? Oh dear.

The two words are used in various and entangled ways in all sorts of contexts, even in such respected places as clinical research papers. No wonder it is confusing. As someone involved in the presentation of the stuff, I do have to take some responsibility. So let's clear it up once and for all.

Of the two, meditation is the easiest to define. Meditation is the use of techniques to direct our attention in order to help train us in positive qualities such as concentration, clarity of awareness and acceptance. There are many different mental qualities that can be trained. There are also many different techniques by which to train a single quality. Meditation can be done in a very formal way, such as in the classic sitting posture with eyes closed for a dedicated period of time. Or it can be done in a more dynamic, mobile style alongside our everyday activities, as will be emphasized in this book. All of which means that meditation is an overarching umbrella term which covers a universe of techniques from all kinds of traditions and used for all kinds of outcomes.

Mindfulness is a touch more difficult to define. The technical definition of mindfulness is knowing what is happening in our experience while it is happening. It is the reason that this book is called what it is. When we are aware of what is happening in our experience at any one time, be it physical sensations in our body or thoughts or emotions in our mind, then there is mindfulness. The quality of mindfulness is an absolutely central part of meditation, especially in what is known as insight meditation, which is the particular style from which the modern mindfulness movement largely derives.

The reason that definitions have become a little bit confusing is that there was a point at which using the word meditation became very unfashionable. Meditation first came into public consciousness during the sixties and seventies. Members of the so-called "hippy" generation became enamored with the romantic spiritual traditions of Asia and brought what they had learned back home once their visas and money finally ran out. Ever since then we have suffered from what I call the "hippy hangover."

Ultimately, whether we call it mindfulness, meditation, or anything else, what we are talking about is the deliberate and active use of our mind to improve our mind.

Meditation began as a primarily spiritual practice. That has changed in the last forty years. Meditation, and in particular mindfulness-based meditation, is now being used in a whole range of very different contexts, from the workplace to dealing with clinical mental-health conditions. Despite meditation having moved on from its spiritual roots, the perception of meditation as being something that was still very much the domain of the alternative scene proved hard to budge. People therefore found that it was much easier to get funding for medical research and sign-off for training programs from multinational companies when they talked about mindfulness rather than meditation. And it sort of stuck.

In this book I will use the words meditation and mindfulness interchangeably since that is the most common way they are used today. There are many different technical definitions for mindfulness but I think those are best saved for the more academic literature. Ultimately, whether we call it mindfulness, meditation or anything else, what we are talking about is the deliberate and active use of our mind to improve our mind. That's really all we need to know.

* * *

I have been practicing and studying mindfulness for more than twelve years. In the last few years I have also gone on to make mindfulness-based apps and products. My personal and professional adventures have shown me that there is an exciting new mindfulness game in town and that game has new rules. We've already met the first of them on that fateful commute into work on the Northern Line.

Rule #1: Make mindfulness first and foremost a mobile activity

People who say they don't have time for mindfulness or meditation are not necessarily wrong. But they are not seeing the whole picture. The key is understanding the difference between formal and informal practice.

Formal practice is the most common idea of what meditation is. It is what happens when we sit down in a quiet place, close our eyes and dedicate a period of time to our technique of choice. Whenever meditation is presented in pop culture this is what it looks like. Someone sitting cross-legged, often with their fingers in the OK-sign, hands balanced on their knees. There may even be an "om" or two thrown in for good measure.

Formal practice is incredibly important. It allows us to deepen the quality of our mindfulness, encourages a sense of complete stillness and can result in insights that can really support us throughout our life. However, to get the most out of formal practice we need to dedicate quiet time for it, and you may well have noticed that time is an increasingly scarce resource in our modern world. What price is a spare quiet hour on a weekday afternoon with no distractions?

In response to this so-called "time poverty," we find formal meditation being presented in a way that constantly reduces the time commitment required. Twenty minutes of meditation is all you need. No, actually scratch that, ten minutes of meditation is all you need. If you don't have time for ten minutes, that's OK, here's a power-packed five-minute meditation you can use. There are even apps for one-minute meditations. And even shorter still.


Excerpted from Modern Mindfulness by Rohan Gunatillake. Copyright © 2017 Rohan Gunatillake. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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