Mind and Mindfulness — Some Questions and Debates

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 12 Aug 2019

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

What is mindfulness?  Is it a technique or some sort of medication that helps an agitated person to overcome stress and anxiety?

It is often suggested that Mindfulness will help a person to overcome stress, anxiety, worries of modern life that most people are facing. The anxieties may result from one’s job or poor performance in academics or from disturbed relationships within a family or with friends. The means suggested for overcoming these anxieties is to sit cross legged as in yoga fashion and to concentrate on one’s breathing and not allow the factors causing anxiety to enter one’s mind.

According to some scholars, mindfulness is a type of meditation that allows a person to focus intensely on some physical activity such as breathing, which results in de-stressing the mind and body. It also acts as a suitable medication.

Many persons who have followed these guidelines for de-stressing themselves admit that they have been quite effective in avoiding common problems and worries and they feel that this technique has been quite beneficial. They feel relaxed and in harmony with nature.

But there is a contrasting view that avers that although temporarily they have felt better and   de-stressed, the worries and problems they have faced earlier return to bother the individuals.

Some of these persons also claim that if the problems they are suffering from are personal, this technique of mindfulness is beneficial. But if the problems relate to political or societal factors, the technique is irrelevant and ineffective. For example if a person is bothered by the shootings and killings that one sees in society due to lack of gun control as in USA or elsewhere, then the technique of mindfulness is totally irrelevant. Similarly there are other issues — racial, religious or economic discrimination that is quite common in many countries, where this technique has no benefits for eliminating or even reducing these problems.

I have met a person who becomes agitated by the (what he feels) the senseless devotion of some modern persons to consumerism and over exploitation of the planet’s resources. What can such a person do to quell his concern and stress? One way is to become an activist or discuss openly about these issues, hoping that his efforts will make a difference. But this method is far removed from the technique of mindfulness.

Before proceeding further, let us briefly understand what is mind and what we mean by this term. It is not the brain although some people use these two terms interchangeably. It is the site of our memory, thinking, language faculty, judgment and consciousness. It is the mind that is the platform for mindfulness.

The relationship of mind with the body has been considered by philosophers both western and Indian.

One view is that although the brain is part of our body, mind is not, despite the two entities being organically linked to each other.

Another view is that although the two are distinct there is an intimate linkage through the physical phenomenon of neuronal activity.

Another interesting question is whether animals have minds although they have a brain that reacts to various situations and which make them react accordingly?

For example if we show a stick to a dog on the street as is quite common in India and elsewhere, the dog will feel threatened and will run away. Similarly there can be a situation that is attractive to an animal. Showing something to eat, like a chicken leg, will attract the dog to the individual.

If we agree that an animal does not have a mind, or at best a limited capacity to react to a situation that may be positive or negative, then people are led to argue that Man is the best creature that God has created. Again there are others who are vehemently opposed to this belief and offer other arguments showing the intimate relationship between human beings and other living beings — animal or plant.

In the latter view, the importance of mindfulness decreases. A person can lead a healthy harmonious life not by following the common procedure of de-stressing oneself to avoid anxiety and worries but by leading a harmonious life with the environment and ecosystem.

Arguments for and against will continue. Let us agree to avoid an argumentative approach.

Let us live in peace and harmony with nature. This will give us pleasure and quietness.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Aug 2019.

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