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What the World Needs Now

Almost 60 years ago, Dionne Warwick sang a popular song that opened with: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love… it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”

Perhaps we can agree that those words are achingly true of our own times. The concept of mindfulness has been put forth in recent years as a technique for allowing us to co-exist with all the difficulty in our lives and in the world—and there is a lot of evidence suggesting that it’s effective.

mindfulness printed paper near window

But how does love enter into that? In the popular media, mindfulness is usually described as paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. The ability to focus and pay attention is generally associated with the mind, but true mindfulness also touches on qualities that include the heart.

As helpful as mindfulness has been in our modern times, it might be even more powerful if we reconsidered the way we commonly understand it. First, mindfulness is a holistic practice for the whole person. It encompasses all of us: body, mind, and spirit. It is certainly true to say that mindfulness invites us into the present moment (and offers some techniques for calming ourselves), but it also calls us into the present moment with a particular set of attitudes or qualities.

Mindfulness asks for an attitude of openness to whatever is arising in our experience. This openness doesn’t necessarily mean we like what we are seeing or hearing, but we’re able to accept its presence without being immediately judgmental or personally reactive. Coming to each experience with a calm curiosity allows us to insert a pause between stimulus and response so that we can see more clearly the whole picture of what is happening. Removing the instant leap to judgment can change the dynamic of every interaction.

So, being mindful is not just learning techniques of meditation. It is a way of being in the world. And it’s not a way of being that comes easily in contemporary life. It requires commitment and practice to phase oneself into a mindset that is the opposite of the media-driven, multi-tasking, judgmental activities our society demands from us. However, when we make that commitment and begin to mindfully reshape the way we experience our lives, we can discover, maybe for the first time, the compassion that comes with kindly awareness. This is compassion that we can extend both to ourselves and to others.

There has been a great deal of research in the past few decades about the efficacy of mindfulness practices for addressing anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and myriad other maladies. More recently, western scholars have begun to look at the health benefits of practices that specifically target the development of compassion. Of course, that isn’t breaking news to the generations of meditators and clerics around the globe who have made compassion central to their worldview and practice.

Most people are very self-critical. Even people who appear confident or even braggadocious are often driven by underlying feelings of self-doubt. If we’re able to perform a healthy critique of ourselves and resolve to improve, we can certainly grow from that. However, much of what we hear from our inner critics is not helpful but harmful. Self-compassion practices can train us to be more aware of the true nature of what we hear from our inner voice, and it can encourage us to practice kindness instead.

The world is desperately in need of love and compassion now, and so are we all. If you would like to learn more about how to develop it yourself, you can explore the website of Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer (https://self-compassion.org) or look at positivepsychology.com/mindful-self-compassion. There is also a helpful Ted Talk on YouTube called “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion.

Locally, Healthy Adams County and the Gettysburg Hospital Foundation will continue mindfulness training in the fall. This year, the training will include more content about compassion practices, with the intention of cultivating more ease in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

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Julie Falk PhD has been teaching mindfulness in Adams County for more than a decade. She teaches yoga and somatic movement at the YWCA and chairs the Healthy Adams County Behavioral Health Task Force.

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