Natalie L Trent, PhD
June 24th, 2018
One of the challenging things about being an empath is traveling and remaining centered. Have you ever gone somewhere and felt overwhelmed? Maybe you had sensory overload, there were too many people, or you were not sure know why. Maybe you felt certain emotions that didn’t seem to have anything to do with you because you felt fine a moment before.
When I was traveling in Amsterdam years ago I had an experience of being caught off guard as an empath. I was with some close friends walking through the streets when we found ourselves in the red light district. This would have normally been fine but I was not energetically prepared. I felt an onslaught of deep depression, emptiness, and horrific pain in my lower abdomen. There was nothing I could do at that point but grab a taxi and head back to my hotel room. I became sick for a few hours and that was the end of my night. Sadly, I have had too many experiences like this to count. This is a classic example of picking up the emotional pain of an environment and the people. I had picked up the pain of those women, many before them, and the land itself.
Unfortunately, this is a common experience for empaths. Empaths are similar to, but not the same as highly sensitive people (HSPs). The difference is subtle. Whereas both are sensitive to their environment, including the emotions of others, the empath also perceives information that is extrasensory, whereas the HSP may not. Empaths are more likely to be introverted but there are also extroverted empaths. Whether they are introverted or extroverted, they are good at reading people’s emotions, feelings, intentions, and even thoughts, as thoughts are strongly connected to emotions. This extrasensory information is usually called clairsentience. Clairsentience is experiencing others’ emotions as your own without any obvious external cues. Empaths not only feel the emotions that others are currently having, but also the emotions that they may be suppressing. They can also pick up the emotions imprinted during a particular time at a particular place, often called an imprint.
The empath likely has high activity in areas associated with clairsentience, such as the nervous systems of the heart and gut. Studies of presentience or “intuitive feeling,” implicate electrical activity from the heart as predictive of an upcoming emotional stimulus. The gut has been less researched with respect to this phenomenon, but an interesting study published by Drs. Dean Radin and Marilyn Schlitz revealed that the gut plays an important role in intuition as well. We have known this throughout our own experience, which is reflected in our language as “gut feeling” or “gut instinct.”
In short, Radin and Schlitz used electrogastrogram (EGG) to measure the myoelectric activity to see if one person’s gut would react to the emotions of another from a distance. The EGG activity was recorded in an individual relaxing in a heavily shielded chamber while, at a distance, a second person periodically viewed a live video image of the first person along with stimuli designed to evoke positive, negative, calming, or neutral emotions. The EGG maximums were significantly larger on average when the distant person was experiencing positive and negative emotions, as compared to neutral emotions. Therefore, the stomach of the person being measured responded to the emotions of the observer even though they did not see them and were shielded from any possible communication.
The heart and the gut, through their connections with parts of the brain such as the insular cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and amygdala, help inform our intuitive decision-making. Indeed, HSPs, and likely empaths, show stronger activation in brain regions involved in awareness, empathy, and self‐other processing. 
Sometimes we receive these intuitive signals but we fail to listen or act on them, and this can harm us. It is important to always listen to our heart and gut. To enhance this intuition, we can increase our mind-body awareness through mind-body practices such as yoga, energy medicine (e.g., Reiki, Qigong), breathing techniques, or meditation that includes body scanning.
Because of this sensitivity to others’ emotions, traveling can be ungrounding and difficult for some empaths since it involves a series of many people and places all connected with different energies. It can throw our whole energetic system off balance. Of course, this depends on where you travel and whom you travel with. If an empath takes a trip to a retreat center and spends the day with nature doing yoga of course these issues will not come up.
The bombardment of energy from many people and any imprints from historical sites or regions where negativity is high, for example, can be too much to bear. We can burn out. This burnout is characteristic of low energy, crankiness, other negative emotions, and wanting to be alone. But even though it can be overwhelming sometimes, there are preparations that we can make and actions we can take to mitigate the empath burnout.
We want to remain sensitive so that we can be guided by our intuition, but we also want to remain centered when lots of information is overwhelming our mind-body systems.
Alright, let’s get to it. Here are my top 10 tips for traveling as an empath:
1. Find green space
Nature is the great cleanser. I highly recommend spending at least half an hour with some trees or a meadow of wildflowers. You can sit in a park or walk a trail through the woods. Nature is everywhere; so make sure to find some every day on your travels. You may need to plan ahead by booking a hotel or air BNB that is next to a park, for example.
2. Breathe deeply and get plenty of fresh air
I know for myself, I am often traveling for research conferences, which are usually housed in large convention centers or hotels. I make a point of leaving the facility regularly so that I can get a few minutes of fresh air. It energizes, cleanses, and increases positive emotions. One of the common things we do when in stress is restrict our breathing. We want to mindfully take deep breaths throughout the day to cleanse our tissues and bring in lots of fresh energizing oxygen.
3. Hydrate and eat lots of food high in life force energy
Staying hydrated will insure that you continually cleanse your body and organs of any toxins or gunk that you may be picking up. Make sure the water is fluoride free and alkaline if possible. When it comes to food, what we feed our bodies will determine how we feel and how our bodies function. We all know this, but it’s really important that we put it into practice, especially when we travel and can be more easily taken off balance. Make sure you start your day, whether you eat breakfast or lunch, with some fresh raw fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens. This will keep your life force energy high vibrational and energize your body and mind. Leafy greens will help ground you as well, which is extra challenging when traveling. I also like to eat more potatoes when I travel, as I find them to be especially grounding and centering for me.
4. Find a body of water for cleansing
Water can have an amazing effect on our energy systems. It helps cleanse residual energy in, on, and around our body. We take showers to clean our bodies, but water also cleanses our emotions and energy fields. When traveling, if you feel like you really can’t shake some emotions, find a body of water that you can spend a few minutes by. If you are in a city without natural bodies of water, find a canal or a fountain to hang out by for a few minutes. For the strongest effect, sit by a natural stream or waterfall and allow its flowing energy to cleanse any emotional gunk or thought forms that may be stored.
5. Plan for alone time
It’s important for the empath to have plenty of quiet alone time, and this is even more the case when traveling. Spend some time alone or with only one other person you are comfortable with if you are traveling in a group. Find a nice café or park and just enjoy the moments of stillness. This brings me to the next related tip:
6. Spend time doing nothing but being present and observing
This is key. We can get very swept up in the drama of the emotions of others, which is often based in past regrets or rumination, or fears about the near or distant future. Mindfulness, present moment awareness can be an antidote to being pulled through these timelines. Make time to just observe the happenings around and within you.
7. Hang out with some animals
Animals are authentic and hold less baggage than humans. They are also in the present moment much more than humans, which helps to ground us. Find birds and mammals to observe, they will re-energize you with their simple authenticity. I highly discourage supporting zoos, but highly ethical sanctuaries are an option if you cannot find wild animals where you are visiting.
9. Visit a museum or art gallery
These are places that usually are quiet because everyone is either reading or listening to headsets and learning. What a delight! You can go alone or with your travel companions, either way it will recharge you. Make sure that you visit during the less busy hours and check for school visits, you’ll definitely want to avoid those!
9. Take a nap or two
Sure, you’re on vacation so you want to experience as much as possible. Or you’re traveling for work and want to be productive. But don’t underestimate the power of a nap to restore your energy levels, cleanse your antennae, and release any emotional baggage from the day. Even just 20 minutes can be enough to recharge and shake off any residual energy.
10. Give love
During empathy overload, we can easily revert to sponge mode, soaking up all the energy around us. Instead, focus on sending loving energy outward. As you walk around and pass people in the streets, send them unconditional, universal love. Keep your heart open. Love is the medicine for negative emotion. If you practice metta or loving kindness meditation, this will be much easier. Regardless of whether you already practice generating unconditional love, this will take practice, since it can be difficult to switch from receiving to giving when the bombardment of energy is high. Our natural tendency is to shut down, to close up and protect our self. To ease into this practice, you can practice when you are not traveling, or when you are around fewer people.
When traveling as an empath, preparation is key. It is a good idea to make sure that you can create a situation in which it will be convenient to follow the tips above.
While the above list should be helpful, it is by no means complete. There are many actions we can take to protect ourselves from empath burnout. Do you have any tips for empaths that were not mentioned? If so, feel free to share this post, along with your story and other tips that you may have for traveling empaths.
For more information on intuition research, see our forthcoming book Expanding Science, published by Param Media (www.parammedia.com/books/expanding-science), with contributions by Dr. Dean Radin, Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, and other postmaterialist scientists.
 Aron, E. N. (2013). The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. Kensington Publishing Corp.
 Radin, D. I., & Schlitz, M. J. (2005). Gut feelings, intuition, and emotions: An exploratory study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 85-91.
 Acevedo, B. P., Aron, E. N., Aron, A., Sangster, M. D., Collins, N., & Brown, L. L. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain and behavior, 4(4), 580-594.
Intuition and the Filter Theory of Consciousness
Natalie L Trent, PhD
June 17th 2018
I am often asked, How can I increase my intuition? To increase one’s intuition it is important to first explore how intuition might work.
We are consciousness observing and interacting with reality through our own unique, but limited perspective. We receive constant input from the environment around us and within us through our sensory organs and receptors specially designed to a particularly wavelength of electromagnetic energy, for example. All of these signals from the external world converge in the brain to construct a cohesive view of reality.
The current materialist mainstream view in neuroscience is that consciousness manifests through brain activity, the production theory. In this view, consciousness does not exist outside of the brain, but rather, is an illusion that our sophisticated brain creates that has contributed to our survival as a species.
There are lines of evidence that suggest consciousness may operate much differently than the production theory. These phenomena tend to involve consciousness and/or the mind transcending the boundaries of space and time, or functioning independent of the brain, including surviving after death. These lines of evidence are discussed throughout this anthology, and include near death experiences (NDEs), out-of-body experiences (OBEs), past life memories, mediumship, psychical experiences, and the effect of the mind and heart on remote systems, both biological and non-biological.
Evidence to support the production theory often comes from studying how thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and personalities, are disrupted with brain damage. But if the brain were instead a receiver for consciousness, this could also be true, such as in the case of damaging a television (TV).
As explained in Beauregard, Trent, & Schwartz, 2018 :
TVs are receivers for processing information carried by external electromagnetic fields oscillating in specific frequency bands. Television (TV) receivers are not the source of the visual information presented — they detect the information, amplify it, process it, and display it. A strong parallel can be made between a TV and the brain with respect to evidence from recordings, stimulation, and ablation. These three kinds of evidence do not imply that the source or origin of the TV signals is inside the TV set. Similarly, evidence from neuroscience does not imply that our consciousness is inside or restricted to our brains.
Many prominent and respected scientists believe that instead of producing consciousness, the brain acts as a filter for consciousness, known as the filter theory.
The extraordinary physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was one such scientist:
And the pioneering educational psychologist Cyril Burt (1883-1971) wrote:
Our sense organs and our brain operate as an intricate kind of filter, which limits and directs the mind’s clairvoyant powers, so that under normal conditions attention is concentrated on just those objects or situations that are of biological importance for the survival of the organism and its species.
Philosopher and renowned author Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) also was a proponent of the filter theory :
Perhaps, through our biological antennae, we are filtering a greater consciousness or reality, with each of us only perceiving a minuscule aspect of the whole.
This filtering mechanism can be altered, allowing an experience of other aspects of reality not normally perceived. This alteration may be occurring during mystical experiences, psychedelic experience, mediumship, and other psychical phenomena. Perhaps we are also connected nonlocally through the One Mind or Mind at Large2, remerging with it upon death. We know that the brain is constantly filtering information, much of which never reaches our awareness. Information from both our external environment and internal mental environment is filtered, meaning we are only ever aware of a very small portion of reality at any given moment.
If we think of the brain as a filter for consciousness, we can change the dial and tap into information normally outside of our own internal database. This is the theory for how psi abilities occur.
Clearing Our Filters
Some people naturally tune in to so-called extrasensory information without effort. There are people who are naturally gifted as intuitives, having experiences from an early age. This is similar as someone being naturally gifted at sports or academic subjects, for example. These abilities are accessible to everyone, and the skills can be enhanced.
There are many ways that we can consciously modify or clear our filters to increase intuition. I will only cover a few of these techniques. There are many more approaches, including diet and other lifestyle factors.
Meditate & Still the Mind
Meditation is the most important tool for increasing intuition. We need to have a still mind to be able to receive information from the One Mind or Mind At Large. The thinking mind is often chatting to us all day, reminding us of this and that, making sure we stay focused on the past or the future. We need to be present and that voice needs to get quiet. Meditation is the process whereby we can let go of that ego-mind voice to allow the higher-mind voice to speak. A meditation practice will quiet this chatter through training our attention to the present moment. Once we create space in this way, we allow for more, potentially helpful information to be accessed and more creativity to be generated.
It’s important to mention that the brain is not the only organ mediating intuition. Our hearts and our digestive systems have nervous systems that play a role in different aspects of intuition. Yoga is about uniting mind and body and allowing prana, or life force, to flow freely throughout the body and mind through asanas or postures, meditation, and breathing exercises. This practice enhances the functioning of the body systems and wipes our filter clean and facilitates transcending the ego mind. For myself, having a yoga practice reliably increases my intuition and creative problem solving.
Fill Yourself with Life Force through Energy Medicine
Running life force or chi through your system acts to cleanse the body and mind. This is like running clean water through an air filter to wash away the debris. By the way, drinking lots of clean, fresh water and breathing clean, fresh air are also key to cleaning our consciousness filter! Practicing Reiki, Qigong, or some other form of energy medicine is highly recommended. Reiki, for example, may work through connecting with the one mind, through focused attention and unconditional or universal love. I find this to be particularly true for my distance Reiki practice as well. The extent to which I connect with universal love is the extent to which the session is powerful.
To book a Reiki session with me, click here.
Connect with Nature
In urban areas there is a lot of noise and overstimulation that blocks clear intuition. Many people I know that live in the city tell me how they pick up other people’s “stuff”, meaning feeling the emotions and stress of other’s. They describe how leaving the city to spend time in nature restores their presence of mind. When I lived in Toronto I was more frequently stressed and emotional compared to living in nature, as I do now. I make it easy on myself and make sure I live surrounded by beautiful nature. If you can’t get out of the city often, fill your home with as many plants, flowers, and rocks (e.g., gemstones, crystals) as possible!
Intuition is a helpful navigation tool for life, and we all have this innate ability. When we use our intuition we have access to extra information that informs our decision-making in all aspects of life. Having a strong sense of knowing (i.e. claircognizance) that something is wrong with a loved one can help us potential avoid a difficult or dangerous situation. Being able to pick up how another person is feeling (i.e. clairsentience) when they aren’t able to express it can help us communicate better in relationships. As we develop and listen to our intuition the more we can create a life that we love.
For more information, this topic will be discussed in the upcoming book “Expanding Science: Visions of a Postmaterialist Paradigm, edited by Mario Beauregard, Gary Schwartz, and myself, Natalie Trent, and published by Param Media. http://www.parammedia.com/books/expanding-science
 Beauregard, M., Trent, N. L., & Schwartz, G. E. (2018). Toward a postmaterialist psychology: Theory, research, and applications. New Ideas in Psychology, 50, 21-33.
 Aldous, H. (1954). The Doors of perception. Heaven and Hell-Flamingo, London.
 Dossey, L. (2013). One mind. Hay House Publishing.
 McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 1. The surprising role of the heart. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 10(1), 133-143.
 Radin, D. I., & Schlitz, M. J. (2005). Gut feelings, intuition, and emotions: An exploratory study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 85-91.
Natalie L Trent, PhD
June 10, 2018
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science
becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the
Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in
the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
– Albert Einstein
One of the most difficult things that every human has to deal with is the loss of a loved one. There is tremendous grief associated with loss, including lingering mental health issues and loss of life meaning, and some people never fully recover.
Because of this universally human pain, it is really important that we invest time and money into studies that help to reduce this suffering while also increasing our understanding of what happens after death. This includes studies of mediumship, communicating with those who have died, as well as treatments for grief itself, such as spiritual practice or psychedelic therapy that can help bring meaning and connection back into the person’s life. Instead, the materialist paradigm closes the door to these experiences and their potential healing.
To the Materialist, There is No ‘You’ After Death
Under the materialist paradigm, there is no awareness after death. Period. This is because under the materialist paradigm, consciousness requires the brain to exist, since awareness is seen as merely a product of brain activity. Therefore, materialism firmly closes the door to any study of consciousness after death, pinching us off from a greater understanding of death beyond the physical process of dying. So in this limited view, all investigations and evidence for mediumship, visitations from deceased loved ones, near death experiences, and past life memories are void to begin with. As postmaterialist scientists, it is our job to open that door.
The materialist paradigm is a dogma, which is met with many fierce defenders. So anyone who studies these phenomena often face severe ridicule from colleagues and peers, which perpetuates the program, and keeps other scientists in the postmaterialist closet. Even more damaging is nonscientists who encounter incredible experiences that show perhaps there is consciousness after death, and the scientific community devalues that experience as mere fantasy or wishful thinking. It’s tragic really.
Thankfully, many scientists are publishing about the need for postmaterialist science . In a recently published article, Drs. Mario Beauregard, Gary Schwartz, and I argue that the field of psychology needs to adopt a postmaterialist perspective if it is to progress. We will also be publishing a book this year called Expanding Science: Visions of a Postmaterialist Paradigm, which includes over 20 world renowned postmaterialist scientists, including Drs. Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, Larry Dossey, Charles Tart, and Amit Goswami.
Spirituality for Coping with Death and Grief
We know from scientific research that spirituality is incredibly important for coping with death and grief. Those who have spiritual experiences, including near death experience, often become less afraid of death. A systematic review has shown that the vast majority of studies, around 95%, investigating the link between spirituality and the grieving process show positive effects of religious/spiritual beliefs on bereavement. For example, with parents of children who have passed, the greater the use of spiritual activities the lower symptoms of grief and mental health problems, particularly for mothers.
Reducing Death Anxiety
In addition to spiritual experience and practice, multiple studies at top institutions, including Johns Hopkins, NYU, and Harvard Medical Schools have shown that many psychedelics, including psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, MDMA, ketamine, and LSD, have all shown reductions in anxiety associated with death in individuals close to death or with terminal disease. These effects seem to be long lasting as well, at least up to one year, which is as long as the participants were tracked. This research stretches back over 50 years ago, but recent resurgence in psychedelic research has reaffirmed this finding. Of course, I want to be clear that psychedelic therapy should always be approached with professional assistance.
My research with salvia divinorum (diviner’s sage) revealed that 25% of those in the study reported feeling as if they had died. When we look at the qualitative data, the written reports of the experience itself, individuals have likened the salvia experience to a near-death experience, or a death experience itself. In fact, participants that have also had a near death experience remarked on how identical the experience was with salvia. It is also paired with a strong sense of familiarity, and a feeling that they had been there before, beyond the veil of this aspect of reality.
Energy Medicine and Visitations
During energy healing, loved ones often come through, both for the individual receiving the session, but also for the practitioner, and sometimes messages are relayed this way. Energy medicine, particularly Reiki and other spiritual healing techniques, connect the practitioner and the receiver with a greater intelligence. The theory behind this may be that practitioners are connecting through universal love to the one mind, the shared consciousness of all humans and perhaps other minds as well. In this nonlocal space, we have access to information we otherwise do not during normal waking consciousness. In fact, qualitative reports from my research on Reiki have revealed that the Reiki experience is a spiritual experience, often an experience of unconditional love, peace, and understanding envelops them. They no longer feel alone, and they feel the presence of their past loved ones. It can be a very powerful multilevel healing experience. This research study was conducted at Harvard with the Center for Reiki Research and will be published this year.
When I practice energy medicine, I deliberately connect my consciousness with the one universal mind through stillness and embodying universal love. This is a nondual state of being. The degree to which I can achieve this state is the degree to which I can connect with information about the person I am working with. When this occurs, often any energies that are strongly connected with the person are brought forth into my awareness, including sometimes loved ones that have passed. This is how psychic abilities work, we nonlocally go up the fractal pattern so to speak, to where we are all connected and all information is accessible. But the good news is that this is done through love and awareness, so it cannot be easily used malevolently because that is inherently a disconnected energy.
Post-Materialism for Positive Societal Change
The postmaterialist paradigm fosters positive values such as compassion, respect, and peace because it promotes an awareness of our interconnection. Additionally, it acknowledges spiritual experiences, which relate to a fundamental dimension of human existence and are frequently reported across all cultures. These experiences offer an enlarged perspective on the nature of the self and reality that cannot be accommodated within a materialist framework. There is mounting evidence that spiritual experiences are often associated with better mental health and greater compassion and life meaning. These are very today as poor mental health; loss of meaning and a lack of compassion certainly contribute to the violence and unrest around the world. Lastly, by emphasizing a deep connection between ourselves and nature at large, the postmaterialist paradigm also promotes environmental awareness and the preservation of our planet.
It is a very fortunate time for science and society. We are at a tipping point, where the old materialist paradigm is not holding up for much longer. This is exciting because it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for understanding ourselves, the earth, and our connection to the greater whole of existence and each other.
For more information on postmaterialist science and scientists, check out the Manifesto for a Postmaterialist Science: http://opensciences.org/about/manifesto-for-a-post-materialist-science
For information on our upcoming book, Expanding Reality: http://www.parammedia.com/books/expanding-science
 Trent, N., Beauregard, M., Near-death experiences in cardiac arrest: implications for the concept of non-local mind. Archives of Clinical Psychiatry (São Paulo), 40(5), pp.197-202.
 Beauregard, M., Schwartz, G.E., Miller, L., Dossey, L., Moreira-Almeida, A., Schlitz, M., Sheldrake, R. and Tart, C., 2014. Manifesto for a post-materialist science. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10(5), pp.272-274.
 Beauregard, M., Trent, N. L., & Schwartz, G. E. (2018). Toward a postmaterialist psychology: Theory, research, and applications. New Ideas in Psychology, 50, 21-33.
 Wortmann, J. H., & Park, C. L. (2008). Religion and spirituality in adjustment following bereavement: An integrative review. Death Studies, 32(8), 703-736.
 Hawthorne, D. M., Youngblut, J. M., & Brooten, D. (2016). Parent spirituality, grief, and mental health at 1 and 3 months after their infant’s/child’s death in an intensive care unit. Journal of Pediatric Nursing: Nursing Care of Children and Families, 31(1), 73-80.
 Reiche, S., Hermle, L., Gutwinski, S., Jungaberle, H., Gasser, P., & Majić, T. (2017). Serotonergic hallucinogens in the treatment of anxiety and depression in patients suffering from a life-threatening disease: A systematic review. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.
 Trent, N.L. & Sherfey, J.S. Subjective effects of salvia divinorum: a mixed methods approach. Psychedelic Science, San Francisco, CA, USA – April 2017
Natalie L Trent, PhD
June 4, 2018
There is little that is of greater importance than being present. So let’s take a few seconds to be present now. Notice the position of your body and the nature of your breath. Take a few conscious breaths in and out and make any adjustments that make you feel more at ease.
The act of being aware of the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way is often called mindfulness. The concept of mindfulness has been a part of humanity for thousands of years, with the first known origins in Buddhism and Hinduism. Being present is our natural state, so while the labels for mindfulness can be dated, mindfulness itself is timeless.
The Problem of Mindlessness
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, which is when we are not pay attention to what we are doing in the present. Mindlessness towards certain experiences can be very useful, such as when performing basic functions that need to flow without much attention, like typing on a keyboard as I am right now. We can’t pay attention to everything at all times of course. But it is when mindlessness takes over our minds most of the time that it becomes detrimental to our wellbeing.
Mindlessness is partnered with mind wandering, the act of thinking about anything and everything that does not have to do with the current moment. Scientific research shows that although people may think mind wandering or ruminating helps solve problems, it only makes us unhappy. Sometimes we don’t even remember the drive to work, or a conversation with someone, because we were thinking about the past or anticipating the future. But life is now, and if we are not present our life slips away right under our nose! Some of our memories are stronger than others, and we have nostalgia for certain periods of time in our lives. This is because we were mindful during those moments. So if we want to preserve memories better, we should be more mindful.
We can be snapped into mindfulness by an unusual or shocking experience, whether good or bad, such as childbirth, or a car accident. When we are mindful our experience is much richer. Eyes sparkle, strangers smile, food tastes better, and the flowers smell sweeter. We all want to feel good. But we all don’t know the best way to cultivate wellness for various reasons, whether our individual upbringing or culture. We may choose hedonistic, addictive behaviors instead of becoming more present. Mindlessness and addiction go hand-in-hand. Instead of being present and fully engaged in our experience, we revert to going shopping when we don’t need to or grab an extra plate of junk food, or get drunk and collapse into unconsciousness. Understandably then, mindfulness practice has been shown to decrease or even abolish addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, and others,,4],.
So why are we so mindless? Well, our cultural systems are not inherently designed to promote mindfulness, but quite the opposite. Many of us learn to be more mindless through our imposed daily order and tasks, and our authority figures growing up often model mindlessness because they are a part of this system. The education system can cause overlearning or memorization, closing the mind and reducing critical thinking and creativity.
Electronic devices promote mindlessness through continually pulling our attention away from our selves, our immediate surroundings, and those around us with whom we would otherwise interact. Of course there are counter arguments where mindfulness can be fostered through these devices, such as with mindfulness apps, but by and large, these devices increase mindlessness.
Bombarded with information and advertisements which certainly capture our focus into either some event outside of our experience, or some object we need to add to our experience in the future. These cultural behavioral programming tools do not promote mindfulness.
The Mindful Explosion
There has been an explosion of mindfulness research over the past couple of decades. The research is growing so rapidly that it is practically impossible to keep up. When I was doing my doctorate at Queen’s University, fellow colleagues laughed at the idea of me studying mindfulness, thinking it was “fringe.” They must feel pretty silly now.
What happens when we become mindful? Thankfully, many scientists including myself have been studying mindfulness on many aspects of human functioning. For example, a study I conducted while I was a Research Fellow at Harvard University revealed that people who are more mindful are also more empathic. So, the less mindful we are the more likely we are to and behave toward others in less empathic ways. Of course this can be disastrous depending on the level of maltreatment.
Practicing mindfulness improves human health and wellbeing in numerous ways ,. So why are we resistant to being mindful? Our awareness is where all of our blissful experience is, but it’s also where we uncover the gunk we have to remove from our lives. And some of us are just not ready to go there yet. For those of us who are ready to be more of our true selves and fully engaged in life, there are many techniques for increasing mindfulness, which I will explain a bit below.
How do We Cultivate Mindfulness?
There are numerous of ways to be more mindful because it is a state of being present, which is accessible to us at all times.
Mindfulness in the Moment
The simplest way to be mindful is to use an anchor of some kind throughout your day. This is usually the breath, but can be other things as well, such as a word you repeat, or a special charm, or any number of things. What matters is finding what works for you. For me, I like to use my breath and body as an anchor to the present. Throughout the day I will check in with my breathing, particularly if something challenging or emotional has come up. Once I check in and breathe, I am back in control of my attention and therefore, my experience.
These anchors act as reminders and allow us to dive back into mindfulness regardless of what we are doing. This is an important practice because although there are techniques to develop mindfulness, if you do not use it throughout your day you won’t get the maximum benefit. The more present we are throughout our day, the more alive we are.
There are mindfulness practices that have been studied scientifically as systematic programs. An ancient mindfulness practice that has been scientifically studied recently is yoga. Yoga postures are mindfulness in motion and are what yoga is most known for in the western hemisphere, but yoga also consists of breathing techniques, meditations, and philosophies, all of which increase mindfulness.
Many energy medicine practices such as Reiki and Qigong also cultivate mindfulness because they work with subtle energy, which fluctuates from moment to moment. Ellen Langer, the first scientist to define and study mindfulness, in the late 70s, has a practice of simply noticing novelty to cultivate mindfulness, sometimes known as sociocognitive mindfulness. The most studied and well-established mindfulness program is mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat Zinn in the early 1980s. There are many techniques for being mindful and the profound benefits of cultivating mindfulness have been shown across thousands of scientific studies over the last few decades.
Mindfulness is also contagious, meaning when one person is mindful they can pass it on to others as well. More mindful psychotherapists will have patients who become more mindful, and mindful physicians have patients that do better in health outcomes. The reasons to practice mindfulness are truly endless, as they extend to the limits of our human potential.
So, let’s all be a little more mindful and spread the love to others!
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