Paul Redgrove interviews Judith Beermann Zeligson
Balancing work with family life and everyday logistics is stressful. We work longer hours, running faster and juggling multiple tasks in order to be more effective. This just makes things worse, says psychotherapist and mindfulness instructor Judith Beermann Zeligson. But there is another way, and both individuals and companies are catching on.
Stress and high speed are features of modern life that we take for granted. The result, Judith says, is sickness, unhappiness, poor performance, and ultimately burnout. Mindfulness is an approach that can help, and it’s spreading fast. But it’s not a quick fix – it’s an approach to your whole life.
Judith sums up the need for mindfulness in a poem:
“All the moments
that appeared and disappeared
– I didn’t know this was life.“
“Most of us can relate to that,” she says. “We miss out on life because we’re living in the future, waiting for the moment to come, or living in the past, when the moment has gone. It leads to frustration and bad choices. We have to be grounded in the present in order to find peace and move forward. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Simply put, it’s the deliberate act of being present in the moment.”
Fight or flight
Inbuilt survival mechanisms play a big part in today’s problems, Judith says. “Human beings are programmed to react without thinking in times of danger. But the everyday stress of modern life puts us in a constant state of alarm even though there is no immediate threat. We respond out of context and the rational brain is not really engaged in many of the decisions we make.”
Pressure, she adds, can make us feel effective when we are not. “We think we are focused, but it’s more like tunnel vision. The survival response filters out ‘non-essential’ details. We lose our wider perspective and our capacity to change viewpoint. We stick with bad decisions and become intolerant of people with alternative views, seeing them as resistant or uncooperative.”
Mindfulness is a way to overcome this, Judith says. “You eliminate many mistakes when you can evaluate things more carefully. A relaxed mind can process more information and is better able to resolve subtleties and complexities.”
The breathing anchor
The good news, she adds, is that the basic technique of mindfulness is simple and can deliver results in a short time. “The core activity is simply to focus awareness on your breathing. It’s called the breathing anchor. Just observe, don’t try to change or control it.
This brings you directly into the present, and you shift from doing to being. Breathing is a constant that you can always use to get into the moment.”
Foundation for change
Over time, she says, you learn to observe and understand your thoughts and feelings without being at their mercy. By seeing and accepting the present, you gain the power to change things and develop.
Many companies are discovering the additional benefits of working with mindfulness, which she says include improved quality of work, higher productivity, lower sickness rates and a happier working environment. “The best results are achieved when a team or group commits to practicing the approach together,” Judith adds. “They energize and inspire each other on many levels.”
Five steps to mindfulness
Getting results is all down to repetition and practice, Judith says. Here are her tips for building mindfulness into everyday life and work:
1. Start by observing your breathing whenever you want to be present in the moment. Keep at it!
2. Set aside time to practice mindfulness. Decide a time and place. Set a goal you cannot fail to meet – less is more!
3. Practice awareness during everyday activities, like cleaning or waiting for the train. Pay attention to what you hear, see and feel right now. Moment by moment.
4. Set yourself an awareness trigger – like touching a door handle or hearing a mobile phone ring. Take stock of the here and now whenever you encounter your chosen trigger.
5. Do an everyday activity a little slower than normal. This will bring your awareness to the present. Moment by moment.
By following these steps you can rewrite the poem to something like this:
“All the moments
that appear and disappear
– this is life.”
Judith Beermann Zeligson
Has been working for 40 years with people from all walks of life with the intention to increase awareness individually as well as in organisations and society.
Her current working areas are: Mindfulness trainings, leadership training existential coaching on all levels in organisations as well as psychotherapy & trauma solutions .Furthermore initiating projects with focus on “Creating a culture of Peace & Diversity “ for professional and private groups of all ages.
All her work includes awareness of body- mind –soul in action and integrates the newest neuroscience research. She has been practising mindfulness privately and professionally since the early 70ies and attends longer retreats each year.