My Granny died last month, aged 97. Good knock, Gran.
It wasn’t such a sad death really, as the real essence of Granny that we all knew and loved had long disappeared.
I wonder how much of our grief is like this; tiny portions of loss spread out across the days and weeks, regular downpayments helping to spread the cost. Well before she left Granny’s fingers had been prised away from the habits and routines that defined our lives.
Then once she was gone the routines of commemoration take over. I had to read out some words from my Aussie family and then say some words of my own. It was all very life affirming, as death can be.
I was struck by how we remembered Granny. What she did, yes. But also how she did it. Granny could be quite formal, snooty even, but the Real Granny was also silly, curious and generous.
I mean, does this look like a woman who really cares whether your elbows are on the table?
Comparing myself to Granny’s generation seldom goes well.
She and her friends fought a war for freedom with incredible modesty and courage. I get annoyed with software updates on my smartphone.
I’m more caught up in my head, too. Busy, but not always about important stuff. Granny did stuff for her family and community. If I’m not careful I do stuff on social media.
Of course this isn’t just me, and maybe this is why mindfulness has taken off. This ancient practice has been seized upon as an antidote to the age of distraction, and there’s a lot of evidence suggesting it works too.
Yet at the same time there are problems with the mindfulness movement. In his new book Carpe Diem Regained, Roman Krznaric highlights two:
First, the mindfulness movement focuses too much on the self, leaving it thin on moral foundations.
Second, in placing so much emphasis on attending to the present moment, it overlooks how much human beings thrive on striving for meaningful goals.
Krznaric also points out that studies suggest mindfulness may increase wellbeing, but not pro-social behaviour. (Author’s note: please see my comment below for an update on this).
So what is mindfulness really for, if all it does is help us bear these atomised, self-absorbed lives that would be so alien to Granny?
Do you remember the early days of the web, when websites were static and focused on giving people information? This was web 1.0, when the focus was all about spreading awareness and knowledge.
The same leap is now happening with mindfulness – a movement away from simple awareness to using our awareness to do things.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is in the vanguard of this movement. ACT combines hard-edged science with the ability to move people, literally and figuratively. There are four reasons why ACT is the future of mindfulness:
- Evidence. It includes all of the benefits of mindfulness – with over 180 randomised control trials now demonstrating its effectiveness in everything from depression, chronic pain, smoking cessation and weight control to workplace effectiveness.
- Practical. It offers different ways to be mindful – making mindfulness more accessible to more people than ever before.
- Clarity. ACT is based on a clear and transparent philosophy of science which helps practitioners learn faster and explain concepts more clearly. (Once I got this I never thought in the same way again).
- Behavioural. The use of the acronym ‘ACT’ is deliberate, because ACT is a behavioural intervention which focuses less on peoples’ thoughts than on what they want to DO in life. ACT explicitly links mindfulness to values and action: it is mindfulness for a purpose.
Isn’t this what the world really needs?
And isn’t it how we will be remembered?