I got to know my colleague, the Flemish psychiatrist and Buddhist Edel Maex, MD, when we drove from Antwerp to Brugge and back together. He went there to give Mindfulness training, and I went there to take this training. Even when traffic congestions risked to agitate us, he remained peaceful, open, present in the here and now. That is why I want to share some parts of this experience with you in this article, knowing that mindfulness can never be properly summarized into just a few words.

Mindfulness developed from Buddhism

Edel Maex, MD, was already passionate about Buddhism before he got into contact with the modern, western package which he brought to Flanders with his bestseller and courses. Of course Buddhism goes deeper, but we must be realistic. If we want to help people in our western world, we need to offer help in forms which they can use in their busy everyday lives.

Mindfulness training got its 'western' anti-stress packaging from the United States.

In the United States, the idea developed that a simple eight-week program, inspired by Buddhist basics, could arm the modern western human being against their daily stress. How does stress develop? Often due to the inner fight against the reality which we do not want to accept: our thoughts start worrying and our senses are less open and not focused on the here-and-now. Our thoughts are set in the past or the future, so we completely miss the now. This makes us unhappy and makes us loose our energy.

Mindfulness  is mild attention on the present!

The answer to this is "mild attention for the here and now", says Edel Maex, MD, again and again in his eight week program. In these eight weeks, he helps us to keep our attention "mild" (without judging) and focused on what is now. This means that we accept the "now", the 'present', in the way that it is. Accepting the present does not mean that we cannot - once we have found our positive energy again - use part of our creativity to focus on looking for creative solutions. But that is not important in the "now": now we are living in the present, and by learning to accept our limitations in the here and now, we learn to be tranquil. To live in the present. It helps us to live more happily in the here and now.

Mindfulness is not just stress management

In previous modules of this program, numerous exercises are taught which help us to discover our own limits. By knowing what they are, we can decide what to do with them. Mindfulness stops the useless fight. It is focused on acceptance. This sounds like a paradox to the modern human being, but it does have some truth to it. Acceptance can sometimes free up surprising amounts of positive energy, while we would expect the opposite. We do not speak of simply letting go: it is a more active approach. But that cannot be explained in a short article such as this one, without going deeper into it: you must experience this.

Mindfulness as self-help program

Like I wrote in my other article, mindfulness in itself is not a therapy. It cannot solve all problems. but it is a useful addition, assuming that you learn how to use it. It is a useful type of self-help, and therefore also a useful addition to existing self-help programs. We developed a special online stress test which allows you to measure whether you are suffering from stress. If you click here, you can take this test.

Paul Koeck, MD