“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.” Eckhart Tolle
The extent to which we can give our full attention to interactions with others is perhaps the most direct measure of our compassion. Mindfulness is an attentional skill involving conscious awareness and full acceptance of the present moment, no matter what is occurring. A major theme of this chapter is that mindfulness is the most powerful form of therapeutic presence and one that must first be cultivated from within. This chapter explores the ways in which mindfulness can promote a more positive outlook, enhance professional engagement, and facilitate optimal health and well-being.
Mindfulness is a life skill that serves to benefit both health-care practitioners and the patients they serve. This chapter explores the value of mindfulness from both perspectives, providing practical suggestions for the development of this skill.
The Treasure of Your Attention
Along the spectrum of cognitive processes that promote responsiveness to the world around us, there are three overlapping levels. Consciousness is the cornerstone process, and relates to an appropriate level of arousal. Awareness is the process by which both internal and external sensory stimuli are monitored. Finally, attention is a process by which conscious awareness is focused on a specific sensory experience.1 By consciously directing our attention, we can focus on the most important aspects of a sensory experience. Not surprisingly, an appropriate attention level is critical for learning.
In addition to learning challenges, persons with attentional deficits often struggle with appropriate social interactions because they have difficulty focusing on relevant sensory cues.2
In the case of our interactions, undistracted attention is required to accurately interpret and respond to the verbal and nonverbal components of language. If you have ever participated in a conversation with less than full attention, you likely know how this detracts from a genuine connection with the person involved. Divided attention (such as when having a conversation while watching television or while preoccupied with self-talk) detracts from the quality of our engagement in each activity.1 Full attention is required for optimal awareness of both the content and meaning of our internal and external dialogue. Therefore the most important gift we can give to both self and others is our full attention. To use an analogy, our attention is like a high-energy light beam that can be focused on any object of interest, whether within or outside of self. The direction of focused attention is an amazing neurological feat, involving innumerable synaptic connections within the cerebral cortex. Accordingly, focused attention requires conscious intention, first to ...