Recently, I was out running errands when I pulled into the parking lot of my destination and realized that I had no idea how I’d gotten there. I tried to recollect my journey, attempting to recall stoplights or intersections, but I drew a complete blank.
Rather than noticing my surroundings, my thoughts had been occupied by what I needed to do – send out an important text. Pay the tax bill. And, oh yeah, it was my turn to carpool later for one of my daughter’s activities.
Sometimes, in a world that values multi-tasking, it’s easy to lose awareness of the present moment. Rather, we are distracted by the ping of an incoming email, the demands of a cranky child or the pressure of a looming work project. Yet scientific research shows that when we become more present in our own lives and pay closer attention to our thoughts and feelings, our quality of life improves, from lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety to becoming more creative.
The practice of paying attention to what is occurring in each moment of our lives is called mindfulness. Frank Gantz lives in the Woods at Lake Davidson and is a clinical psychologist who has worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salisbury for the last 20 years. Over the years, he saw increasing research showing it was a positive intervention with drastic results, so he started using it in his own practice about two years ago. “The practice of mindfulness made a huge difference in the lives of some of my patients,” he said.
It was such a difference that he decided to begin practicing it himself, and he quickly saw the calming influence it had in his own life. Now he’s hoping to start a mindfulness group in the area and is looking for others who are interested in practicing ways to be fully present in their lives.
Mindfulness has roots in ancient meditation practices, and participants learn through meditation and breathing techniques how to turn off the chaotic thoughts that occupy our brains. “Oftentimes, we aren’t paying attention to what another person is really saying – instead, we’re thinking about our next meeting or task. Mindfulness is a way to slow things down and focus on the here and now,” Gantz said. “You learn to let go of the worries and the fretting.”
Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been abundant research supporting the practice as a way to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. “Our culture is driven to multitask and be productive, but that can lead to us be over stimulated,” Gantz said. As a result, our health declines. “Mindfulness teaches us we have a choice, and when it’s time to focus, we can.”
Like other skills, mindfulness can be challenging at first. “It’s difficult to let go of unnecessary worries,” Gantz said.
In addition to breathing techniques, the group will also make time for discussion and hopefully host some guest speakers. Gantz hopes to meet twice a month for about an hour. He thinks our area is the perfect spot for a group like this one. “We’re a community that’s fairly progressive, with a lot of open-minded individuals who are interested in quality-of-life issues,” he said.