Mindfulness is an ancient technology that has relevance to today’s problem of chronic stress overload.
Part of the reason we are chronically stressed is because there is a mismatch between the environments our stress systems evolved within and the challenges of contemporary life (see my previous entry on “Stress is Crucial, So Is Learning to Decrease It”).
Our capacity for vivid imagination can make things worse if our thoughts run towards worried concerns for the future or regretful ruminations over the past. When our mind is “unsupervised” it can get into a lot of trouble, creating stress overload. There was a cartoon in The New Yorker that showed a stressed looking man clutching the arms of a chair. His wife says to him, with a look of pity and concern, “You should never engage in unsupervised introspection.” This is a good definition of the target for mindfulness. Such unsupervised introspection can cause distressing emotions and automatic reactive behavior leading to stress. Mindfulness shows us how to supervise our minds.
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