Five Minutes Peace by Nadina Al-Jarrah

Some years ago, a friend who is an artist made a small sculpture which they called Five Minutes Peace.  As it sat on view on the desk or shelf, the inspiration behind the concept was that its presence would prompt the viewer into remembering to take a break from the rigours of life for five minutes.  It was a wonderful idea and one that was making reference to how busy we are, and how little time we take away from that busyness.  That was over ten years ago, before we entered the instant digital world that many of us now inhabit, and it is no exaggeration to say that much has changed in the last decade.

In Britain 2012, life operates at an extraordinarily fast pace.  Gone are the Sundays when the shops would not open, prompting a whole day to be set aside for relaxation or leisure.  No more are the days of quieter roads and bored rainy afternoons when you had to provide your own “make do and mend” entertainment.  In place of these past fallow moments that accompanied our every week, there is now a myriad ways we keep ourselves entertained and constantly occupied.   And it seems it is a merry go round, getting faster and faster going from one thing to the next, checking, responding, informing, networking, reviewing and rewinding.  Using computers, tweeting, gaming, shopping, you tubing, pod casting and mobile phoning are all commonplace activities that now constantly punctuate our lives in a very big way.  There are few gaps in our days that are not being instantly filled, and there is perhaps a profound and direct link that we make between productivity and having a sense of purpose in life.

But what effect does all this activity have on our sense of well being when we are in a constant process of doing, rather than just being?  In an age when we perhaps equate busyness with popularity and success, it is very hard to accept the notion that to do nothing, can be helpful and productive.  Are we, as a society, in the process of forgetting that moments of quiet,  minutes of silence or stillness, and the notion of just being in the world, is a good enough experience in itself?

As the incidence of depression and anxiety in the western world increase, more and more people it seems are struggling to gain a sense of well being and satisfaction.  This is despite the standard of living apparently having increased the overall quality of life. Something, it seems might be missing, and rather than quickly looking for a way to fill yet another space, perhaps we should take a moment to consider what other options might be available.

There is gathering evidence to show that mindfulness and meditation offer effective ways of helping to deal with some of life’s stresses and anxieties.   Scientific understanding of this has come through developments in neuroscience; a picture is emerging of how the brain, body and emotions are all intrinsically linked, offering new insights into why and how meditation can help us cope with life’s challenges.  The way we can use this new understanding can be adapted to a variety of circumstances, so that the learning and practice of mindfulness can be incorporated independently, or as part of a therapy treatment.

The practice of mindfulness is based on hundreds of years of learned meditative experience in the East, which have been adapted for a modern day context.  You do not have to subscribe to a religious philosophy, or be aiming for Nirvana to be able to participate in a mindful meditation, and you do not have to spend hours and hours trying to blank out your mind.  You just have to be able to sit comfortably for a short while, and let yourself experience what it is, to just be you.   Like any new learning, it takes a bit of practice at first and we sometimes have to dig deep to get through the barriers that want to distract or obstruct us from  reaching our hoped for achievements.

Maybe “being with ourselves” does not sound exciting or glamorous, and perhaps it will never have the universal cache of some of the more instant highs. What it can provide us with however is a very real and deep sense that you are in the world, and with awareness and self compassion at times it can be a good place to be.  And when we can find a compassion for ourselves, then perhaps we can also extend that to others.

As someone who is a doing person, never happier than when I am busy,  I can fully appreciate the internal struggle to spend a few moments, quietly in reflection, being still and quiet.  There are lists to be ticked, plans to be hatched, places to go and problems to be resolved.  What I have learned though is that if I can bring a mindful awareness to all these things, and at times, let myself just be, then life takes on a far deeper, calmer and more resonant tone.   And for me that is definitely worth setting aside a few moments of my “too busy doing things” time for, in order to gain a few moments peace.

Nadina Al-Jarrah is an LPN member.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the tireless advocator and practitioner of mindfulness. You can find plenty of him on You Tube, or buy his CD’s of guided mindfulness practices from http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/. Full Catastrophe Living is essential reading for the background and development of his pioneering clinical applications of mindfulness.

The Mental Health Foundation is promoting mindfulness, along with MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). It’s website has lots of information, including database of courses in UK http://www.bemindful.co.uk/