According to the Black Dog Institute, mindfulness is:
is a form of self-awareness training adapted from Buddhist mindfulness meditation. It has been adapted for use in treatment of depression, especially preventing relapse and for assisting with mood regulation
I think mindfulness is actually something that comes naturally to kids when they’re concentrating with that particularly singleminded style on something they’re really interested in. Growing up in the 1970s, I never meditated per-se, but there were definitely times I engaged in mindfulness.
Focused neither on the past nor the future, existing as-is, mindfulness in a simple form is focusing yourself entirely on what you’re doing now. If approaching it from the traditional sense, that would be in a meditative style, but it doesn’t only have to be that. As we’ve seen in recent years, the proliferation of colouring-in books for adults are a great example of doing something basic or perhaps even repetitive to just let yourself be.
As a kid, for me, that was Lego.
I’ll risk sounding like an old-fogey here, but back in my day Lego seemed much simpler. The parts were simpler – there were fewer specialised parts. There weren’t Star Wars Lego kits (as much as I recall) and while there were various kits I tended to pull the parts out and throw the instructions away.
Come Saturday and Sunday mornings, I’d put a sheet down on a floor and empty out a very large bucket of Lego parts. Then I’d spend half a day or more sifting through parts to construct something seemingly fantastic — usually a spaceship of some sort. I’d keep the model for a day or two, then pull it all apart and be ready to start again.
Flash forward to present day and as adults we’re constantly being encouraged to experience mindfulness as a form of meditation, relaxation or stress relief.
Only meditation is not something that works for me. Maybe it would given the appropriate training or focus, but the idea of doing nothing is an anathema to me. Perhaps my tendency towards apeirophobic and/or nihilphobic nightmares leaves me leery of meditation. Regardless of whether psychologists suggest it, meditation can go figuratively screw itself as a means of relaxing me. For me, mindfulness doesn’t come from an absence of activity, but a process of doing something that requires minimal thought and a splash of creativity.
Friends of mine play complex games. I gave up on complex games when after playing Quake III for months and feeling quite confident at it, I entered an online arena and got fragged dozens of times in the space of a few minutes. My hand/eye coordination skills, crap in real life, translate quite nicely into an online world when it’s competitive.
Minecraft is not competitive. You can play it with different levels of difficulty or in creative mode, where there’s no danger. But playing it with a modicum of danger gives a little sense of time. Maybe that’s not in the spirit of mindfulness, but it probably suits my approach, given my lack of connection with meditation. You can take a telic or atelic approach to Minecraft – you can try to play it to the logical conclusion as defined by the developers, or you can play it free-form, doing whatever you want, building whatever you want, going where-ever you want, simply for the sake of doing it.
And so it’s an atelic approach I take to Minecraft, and I believe that’s why it gives me the same sensation of mindfulness I captured so innately as a kid.
There’s definitely a strong Lego-like element to Minecraft. Find all the pieces you need and then assemble them how you want. That’s probably why, once I was introduced to it, it had such an appeal to me. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing it over the past 4 or more years, and initially I fretted that I was wasting my time, until my boyfriend simply said one day you’re engaging in mindfulness. OK, maybe that’s just engaging in sophistry, but looking at adults buying colouring books, and people spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on relaxing retreats, there’s perhaps a simple lesson: mindfulness in the modern age is what works for you.
Meditation, colouring-in, reading, painting, drawing, Minecraft. Don’t get wrapped up in a classical definition of mindfulness – find your stress relief and your relaxation and your mindfulness however you need.