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De-Mystifying Mindfulness

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Mindfulness 

I am attending an online course on Mindfulness at the University of Leiden in Holland using the Coursera platform. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment, and doing it intentionally and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness helps you regulate attention, emotions and body states, among others.

I enrolled in the course, along with 121,782 other people, being unaware of what actually Mindfulness is. I just wanted to learn something new. In the beginning I thought that it was for people who live in a state of anxiety and stress, for people who are unable to concentrate, who are lost in thought –and I am not one of these.

Text by Anastasia Spyropoulou

But as I progress in the course, I learn a lot about how the mind and the body work, how thoughts and emotions –even eating habits- can be regulated and how people are affected by social and religious norms and beliefs.

The course is delivered via videos. The texts are all in English. After watching the videos (3-4) each time, you write 3-4 short essays based on questions about the content of the presentations. You also need to express your own opinion and experience. You share your essays with other course participants. Some tasks require from you to read three other participants’ essays, rate them according to a rating scale and give detailed feedback on the strong and weak points of the participants’ essays.

Practicing mindfulness requires to recognize that it is worthwhile to live despite all the challenges, misunderstandings, and times of crises. It all depends on how we perceive the idea of self-development, which is not simply a destination that we want to reach, but a continuous journey. It requires a long assessment of one’s own self and perseverance to improve even in the smallest areas. Struggles and challenges will be inevitable along the way but they will serve as a test to know how committed we are to conquer them.

Loving ourselves results to motivation to work harder to achieve what we want. Also, we should not compare ourselves with others. Instead, we should compare ourselves with the person we were yesterday and see what has been improved in us. Mindfulness advocates that we should always remember that our personality and being is constantly under construction because there is always something we can improve.

Mindfulness questions morality in its descriptive sense as a code of conduct that a person or group takes to be most important and also recognizes that attention to religion casts doubts on many aspects of life. Mindfulness suggests to free ourselves from the guilt, to try and get in touch with our real feelings. When we look outside, away from our own subjective world, we see that we’re actually part of something much bigger. And very often our own problems, which felt so utterly important a little while ago, slip away. 

Mindfulness has elements from psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, religion and that makes the course very challenging. In addition the University of Leiden has set the bar very high. The pass rate is 80%. My best score so far is 100% and the worst 88% but I am still half way. There are two modules left.

What is worth mentioning is that the vast majority of course participants are people from developed countries –USA, Canada, from many European countries, from Russia etc. These people are carried away in thought and try to return again to the present moment; they are in a constant state of stress and anxiety and desperately attempt to achieve peace of mind and inner calm. 

Meditation helps but what is the most important remedy for psychological well-being and mental health is contact with nature. There is an innate need in humans to affiliate with other forms of life such as plants and animals. This essentially means that humans have a desire to be near nature.

Anastasia Spyropoulou

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