In a world full of stress, one searches for ways to deal with it. Most of us though, find it easier running away from it or strategically manoeuvring ourselves away from it. Maheen Mohammed, a certified Mindfulness Training Instructor, though, teaches her students to accept it and deal with it, gently through Mindfulness.
HIP: Could you please explain the concept of “Mindfulness”?
Maheen: One of the pioneers of “mindfulness” (he brought it to the medical world to treat chronic pain), Jon Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness as "the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally." Let me break that down for you – we, as humans, tend to be on auto-pilot, where are minds are not with what we are doing at present. We might be overthinking and revisiting a conversation, or stressing over, planning the future. Mindfulness is a practise, where we very kindly (a non-judgemental aspect that Jon Kabat talks about) or like one of my teachers, Jack Kornfield, say, bring loving awareness to our experiences. So, mindfulness is bringing your attention to right here, right now, with a lot of loving, caring attention.
James Baraz, another pioneer, defines it as “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won't).” We have a lot of experiences as humans. We feel pleasant emotions, sometimes neutral experiences, which we may not necessarily want to stay with or want to push away. And then, the really unpleasant ones, which we, sometimes don’t even acknowledge and really push away, or may be, we try distracting ourselves from, to feel better. In the short-term, this might be helpful, but in the long-term, it’s not, because it’s still there. All human lives have, what is known as, the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows. It’s not possible to not have those. So, mindfulness is learning to recognise that it’s all impermanent and temporary, and changing is a relationship with dealing with it all, very kindly.
HIP: You have been practising as a psychologist for over 10 years. How did you start on your journey?
Maheen: I started out as a teacher in 1997. I had a Bachelors in Education and taught grade 4. Then, I decided to get a Master’s Degree in Child Psychology because I wanted to know how to help my students. I started practising as a school psychologist and did that till 2013. But, even in my work as a school psychologist, I felt something was missing. My job was primarily working with children’s working needs and behaviourial needs with assessments. It was on my journey, that I found mindfulness. This was about 10 years back. Even though I wasn’t regularly practising mindfulness meditation, the little that I did, made a great impact on me, and I realised this was what was missing. I decided to pursue more of it, and now I have a few certifications: I’m a certified teacher with Mindful Schools in California, an accredited teacher with Breathworks U.K, a trained Mindfulness Self-Compassion teacher, and just now, I completed a two-year Mindfulness Teacher Certifications Programme under Jack Cornfield and Tara Brach. Mindfulness practices have changed my life. That’s why I teach them. Because I’m much kinder to my self, I’m kinder to others.
HIP: Other than what you have accomplished till now, do you plan to further achieve more goals?
Maheen: I don’t really think I have set goals. But when I teach, I feel teaching helps me remember our true nature – that we have the capacity to hold all of this and accept and deal with it, gently. Thus, I feel teaching helps me remember. It has much for me as for anybody else than for. Laughs In a sense, it might be a bit selfish, I suppose, because I teach for myself. But there is also this deep longing that I might help benefit the others, too.
HIP: What is the secret, in your opinion, of living a stress-free or little stress life?
Maheen: I don’t think there’s a way of living a life without stress. Even if we practise dealing with it all with mindfulness, we are learning to be with it with gentleness and accepting it. And even, when we do practise it, sometimes, you can’t deal with it with gentleness (laughs) and then, accepting that! It’s just about to practise, and checking, what is it like being me at this moment. It’s so rare for us to pause, and check that out – what does my body feel like? What are my thoughts like? What are the emotions that I feel?
We do that formally through meditation, and informally, living regular life. Mindfulness meditation is when you take a little time out and meditate, as in mindfulness and breathing, the most basic technique, where you bring attention to the breath in your body.
Informally, is to live the moment, as in when you’re eating, feel the taste, the texture of the food, the feeling of swallowing, the feeling after swallowing etc. So, as you practise, you slowly learn to accept even that which is difficult, and uncomfortable.
There’s a Rumi quote, “Do you make regular visits to yourself”, and that, I feel, is very apt. And that was how, very aptly, Maheen Mohammed, Mindfulness Teacher, ended the talk. HIP thanks her for her time, and how generously, she shared her knowledge with us.