Emotional health plays a critical role in overall well-being. Betty Pries (MTS ’05), the co-founder and CEO of Credence & Co., teaches mindful mediation at Conrad Grebel University College. She explains how mindfulness improves our lives and communities.
What is mindfulness, and why do you think it’s such a popular concept right now?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment — which sounds simple, but in reality can be challenging and requires practice, typically through meditation and other strategies. I think of meditation as going to the gym for one’s soul. Just like exercising our muscles allows us to be stronger through the day, so also does meditation support the practices of mindfulness over the course of one’s day.
Mindfulness has become important, in part because of demonstrated health benefits and in part because in our current fast-paced and changing context, many people are longing for a sense of rest, inner peace, meaning and connection — all of which mindfulness makes possible.
What role does mindfulness play in a healthy life?
Mindfulness helps us to be healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and collectively. When we meditate, we practice slow breathing which regulates our mind and brings us to calm. This teaches us to recognize when we are becoming “hooked” by someone or something, giving us time to be reflective before responding to whatever has hooked us. Over time, a spirit of self-compassion emerges within us: we no longer have to flee ourselves! And, perhaps most remarkably, mindfulness opens us to a spirit of compassion for those around us.
How can we use mindfulness to build healthy communities?
Mindfulness, unfortunately, is sometimes seen primarily as a stress-reduction technique. In fact, it is so much more. Mindfulness is about becoming deeply grounded so that we can be in the world more thoughtfully. It typically leads to becoming a kinder, gentler and more accepting person. If mindfulness is only for oneself it is not actually mindfulness. Mindfulness always transforms us and, in so doing, causes us to become deeply concerned about the welfare of those around us. In fact, mindfulness and healthful social activism are deeply interwoven with one another.
What excites you about how people might apply mindfulness in the future?
Every religious tradition includes some version of mindfulness practice that goes back hundreds and thousands of years. So the innovative approach I hope for is a rediscovery of the roots of mindfulness, in whatever tradition people feel is home for them. This ensures that we go from a surface understanding of mindfulness to really mining the depths of wisdom mindfulness has to offer — with regard to transforming the self, yes, but also with regard to transforming our relationships with one another and with the environment. When we are mindful, we are thrust into a much more humble way of being in the world; this changes everything, from politics to family relationships to how we care for our earth.