• Julian & Michaela

The self-help industry has latched onto mindfulness in a big way. Numerous books and now even magazines devote themselves to the topic and trumpet its benefits.

This is no bad thing. We ourselves are strong advocates of mindfulness approaches as a means to help with a range of psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, depression and also relationships.

However, there are a number of ways in which this recent surge of enthusiasm can be misleading, and can diminish the richness of what is in actual fact a long-established practice.

Firstly it can give the impression that mindfulness is a magic cure for all ills. While it can help in many ways, this impression risks overlooking the practical challenges that the actual practice of mindfulness involves.

Mindfulness is grounded, whether we like it or not, in the regular practice of meditation, and this involves a level of self-discipline and commitment which can be difficult to achieve in our busy, driven, media saturated modern world.

Secondly, the amount of literature being generated implies that it is a complicated topic which needs much unravelling. But while the practice may be challenging, the basic concept and technique is really beautifully simple - even if unfamiliar to our modern Western sensibility.

Thirdly, and leading on from the above, the concept of mindfulness originates in the East, or more particularly in the teachings of Buddhism, something that often goes unacknowledged.

It can be helpful to extract what is a psychologically helpful practice from its religious context, which may put off some people. However, this does detract from the richness of the practice by neglecting its spiritual and moral dimensions, reducing it to a skill or a technique.

For Buddhists it is far more than that, being part of a means for achieving spiritual enlightenment and a deeper appreciation of the world and of the universe. It is a practice or a way of life, which Buddhist monks for many thousands of years have spent their whole lives cultivating.

This doesn't mean it can't have huge benefits for us in the West, but the challenges of mindfulness and its deeper riches need to be taken into account and respected if it is not to become just another passing fad.

We will come back to this topic in future blogs.

The importance of relationships with family and friends is perhaps being overlooked at the moment in the rush to get people back to work and the economy up and running.

Newspaper columnist Sonia Sodha argues that although it is necessary to secure people’s incomes, more consideration should be given to the need for contact between family members and close friends who have been kept apart by the lockdown.

While economic hardship is a primary cause of mental stress, personal relationships also play a key role in our emotional wellbeing and should be taken more into account in the decisions being made about easing the lockdown.

‘In England,’ she writes, ‘ministers have decided to allow an incremental increase in the number of people we come into contact with, and appear to have prioritised economic over social contacts, encouraging people to return to work before allowing them to socialise in multi-household “bubbles”’.

This also goes for the opening of retail and catering businesses which inevitably encourages gatherings of people, while tight restrictions on meetings between households are being maintained.

The argument here is not about opening the lockdown floodgates but where our priorities lie. Is it more important to be able to pay a trip to your local hardware store, garden centre or café, or to see your sister, brother, son, daughter, grandchildren, parents or other close relatives?

The extent to which you are feeling happy with life under lockdown will partly be determined by whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. Other factors will obviously play a role but personality traits will affect your response both now and when the lockdown begins to loosen.

Whereas extroverts tend to be outgoing and sociable, finding themselves energised by the company of others, introverts enjoy time spent on their own or with just small groups of other people.

Extroverts are stimulated by all forms of social interaction while introverts gather strength from quieter and more solitary pass-times. Introverts are not totally averse to socialising, but will need to retreat from company to reenergize and recourperate.

It is generally felt that the likeable, friendly though sometimes overbearing extrovert is more valued by society due to his or her outgoing and convivial nature. Many of the norms of work and social life tend to favour the extrovert.

In recent times however there have been attempts to challenge this view and to sing the praises of introverts who can often be thoughtful, creative, spiritual and highly intelligent.

One of the most notable examples is the book Quiet, by Susan Cain who writes:

Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

A quick google search for examples of famous introverts provides an impressive list of names which includes: Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Meryl Streep and Barack Obama.

It is not surprising that the new work practices and social restrictions created by the lockdown are much more suited to the temperament of the introvert rather than the extravert, a subject which is explored in a newspaper article headed ‘For Introverts, lockdown is a chance to play to our strengths’.

The way we live now has split us in two,’ writes Jess Denham. ‘For introverts, it’s largely business as usual. But for my more extroverted friends, who are clamouring for Zoom calls to fill the gaping hole the pub has left in their lives, it’s a deeply testing time’.