How mindful are you?

BREATHING ROOM - Rose Anne Belmonte, Eliza Coliangco-Tan (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2015 - 12:00am

Last September, we attended a talk by the esteemed clinical psychologist, Dr. Honey Carandang, entitled Caring for Carers. Dr. Carandang discussed the topics of self-care, mindfulness and balance. We became particularly interested in the topic of mindfulness and wanted to learn more about it. Thus began our bi-monthly group sessions with Dr. Carandang.

Our group consists of four women- good friends who have spent years building and running our own businesses and raising our own families. There was a yearning for living a more mindful and balanced lifestyle.

Thus, we sought the training and mentorship of Dr. Carandang in the practice of mindfulness. It initially seemed like a reach-practicing mindfulness and balance in the lives of four very busy, very goal-oriented women with a hundred and one things to juggle. However, in the past four months, we have come to learn that practicing mindfulness is not contradictory to our busy lifestyles- it is in fact necessary, if we are to become the best versions of ourselves.

For the two of us (Rose Anne and Eliza), although we are still but neophytes in our practice of mindfulness, we wanted to share what we have learned and are continuing to learn, through an interview with Dr. Carandang and some of our own insights on what mindfulness means to us. 

What is mindfulness?

According to Dr. Carandang, mindfulness is the practice of paying total attention to what is going on in ourselves- externally (physically) and internally (mentally, emotionally). It is being aware of whatever we are thinking, feeling, doing and experiencing in the moment, with no judgment- to be conscious of it, to accept it, and then, to respond to it purposefully.

Dr. Carandang came across the concept of mindfulness about 20 years ago, when she read the book The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Hanh posited that one of the best ways to live a joyful life is to practice mindfulness, defined as paying attention totally to the present moment, non-judgmentally. This definition resonated with Dr. Carandang, as it felt aligned with the therapeutic work she was doing. She read Hanh’s books and attended trainings with him abroad. She began to practice mindfulness (“But the practice is a practice, I’m telling you! I still have a long way to go, I still become reactive.  But then I’m improving.”), and found herself sharing his books and his perspective to everyone.

Dr. Honey Carandang

“I was sharing everything, because for me I had found a treasure. I found a way to live life and not get caught up in the type of frenzy of the urban jungle, the hurried unthinking life. It’s like I found this clear water in the desert. I felt like Oh my God, I better drink this but I also need to share it. That became my mission, the mindfulness revolution,” she said.

Here are some of the things we are learning about the practice:

1.      Mindfulness starts in the morning.

Being ‘mindful’may sound simple and easy for some, or it may sound like a difficult, abstract task for others. In truth, it is a little of both- it is simple enough that it is accessible to all, and there are no special gadgets or materials needed to practice mindfulness; on the other hand, it is difficult in the sense that it necessitates continuous learning, practicing, committing to it, and then re-committing at each moment when your resolve falters. Mindfulness is a way of approaching the world, the people around us, and ourselves. It is a way of being- a proactive way of responding to all that is around us and within us.

Dr. Carandang reminds us that practicing mindfulness means being an embodiment of it. We cannot be mindful and yet interact with others in a rushed, haphazard, mindless manner. We cannot be mindful and choose to react to situations in the moment, rather than carefully processing our decisions. Being mindful takes practice and commitment. It may call for a change in lifestyle and routines, but the positive effects of one change can lead to others. 

Dr. Carandang asked our group: “When you wake up, what do you do?” Some of us are awakened by the loud ringing of the alarm clock; others jump out of bed and almost automatically run through the list of things that need to be done in their heads.

“You don’t have to stand up and hurry because that will not get you anywhere,” counsels Dr. Carandang. “It sets the tone for your day and the rest of the day you will be running around like a chicken without a head. What does that do to you? All the illnesses can happen, your heartbeat becomes accelerated, your breathing grows quicker, your mind is not able to think well, your thoughts are racing, and you allow it,” she warns. Instead, she reminds us that “It is essential for your day not to be frenzied, not frantic, not hurried.  It is better to be calm, and to pause; stop this frenetic movement that’s carrying you everywhere.”

2.      Mindfulness can be taught and learned.

For many, constantly being mindful may sound tedious and time consuming. Some may even think of it as a luxury that they cannot afford. Between family, work and social obligations, mindfulness may seem like the type of thing we practice- and then leave- in the yoga studio. However, Dr. Carandang emphasizes that it is a skill that should be learned by all- regardless of age, role, and life circumstance- and that can be practiced at every moment of the day.

In fact, Dr. Carandang is advocating for mindfulness training to begin at an early age in our schools. She laments thatEven our young people don’t have time to pause and reflect. They always look at their Facebook. When they need anything, they just look at Google. But they will not pause and think. They have the ability to think but they don’t know or value anymore their own ability to think for themselves. What is the consequence of this? The mind is overloaded with information. I remember what the Pope said: do not just be a museum of information, act. But how can you act if the information is overloading you?  You can only digest it if you are still. So in the Department of Education, we are thinking of introducing the concept or practice ofmindfulness in the early years in school-such as in staying silent for a few minutes at the start of class.”

Adults, as well, benefit from practicing mindfulness. Dr. Carandang works with individuals and corporations, giving mindfulness training to team members, in order to increase their creativity and productivity. She cautions from propagating the mentality that working non-stop will increase productivity. She says, “What we don’t realize is that we become more creative, think more clearly, when we’re able to pause. If not, we will burn out. Our energy will be drained, we won’t have any creative thinking left, and we won’t have a clear sense of judgment.”

Dr. Carandang emphasizes that the importance of clearing our minds goes beyond making decisions at the level of daily tasks; it encompasses higher values such as deciding to be honest and working with integrity. In fact, she is working with the EDC (Energy Development Corp.) on creating a “culture of integrity” by creating “small circles of mindfulness” in the workplace- small groups of people where honesty and good quality work is upheld. Quoting a famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Dr. Carandang believes that growing small groups of staff members who practice mindful thinking and who support each other on this- staff members who are intentional and purposeful in their actions and decisions, who uphold positive values in the workplace, and who take time to pause and pace themselves effectively- will help corporations increase productivity as well as create positive changes in the overall company culture.

3.      Mindfulness underlies excellence.

The call for mindfulness is, in essence, a call for excellence and for the fulfillment of one’s fullest potential. In general, every person wants to move forward in life, to improve, to excel. Dr. Carandang reminds us that the road to excellence can be hampered by a lack of being mindful- of taking the time to pause, reflect, and focus. When we pay attention to, and are fully honest of our inner experience (our thoughts and feelings) and the reality of the situation we are in, we can be more equipped to make well-defined, purposeful decisions and actions that lead to the best outcomes. It can also help us clear our minds of the non-essentials, making room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Dr. Carandang reminds us that “Neuroscience research shows that your brain works better when you are calm. I think we need to propagate that mindfulness allows you to pause and rest—two of the most undervalued essentials of life. Look, even in religion- all religions have time to rest… The Ramadan; Jesus rested not only on the last day, but also when He was being overwhelmed by the crowd, He went up the mountain to be in solitude.  That’s what we miss. We’re not doing it anymore.”

Dr. Carandang teaches that is it is difficult to excel when our minds are clouded and our energy is frenetic. When we do not take time to stop and become attuned to our inner and outer experience, we cannot have a clear perspective of all the different factors that should take part in our decision-making process. We cannot maximize our fullest potential if we are not aware of, and in control of, our very selves.

4.      Mindfulness leads to transformation.

As Dr. Carandang aptly pointed out, pausing and being mindful is essential on a physical, mental, emotional, and we dare say, spiritual plane. Being aware of what we are experiencing internally can help us come to a deeper level of self-understanding, acceptance, and for many, healing.

Many of us have pain, conflict, and yearnings deep inside, albeit in varying degrees of intensity. Many of us, stable and fulfilled as we may be in our lives, still yearn for a certain centering and inner peace, a deeper awareness of how to further improve in our day-to-day.

Mindfulness is awareness—a kind, accepting, non-judgmental awareness of what’s going on inside me.”, explains Dr. Carandang.“For example, you might say, I’m very angry right now.But I will accept it and be kind to myself…most of the time people, men more generally, act angry when they’re hurt.  Anger is their mode of dealing with their deeper emotion. Deep inside, they just want attention, affection, affirmation. But they cannot get beyond the wall of anger because that’s their defense. They are not aware.  Without awareness you cannot change anything, you have no choice. When we become aware, start to question why we act or feel the way we do, we can start to change it. The practice of mindfulness comes with the belief that our natural self is kind, good.  When you quiet down, and reflect, and heal, the good can come out.”

Being mindful of our inner workings and our interactions with others inevitably leads to a greater comprehension of who we are, what we value, and why. This initiates an internal conversation that seeks to explain and grasp our person, which in turn, allows for more intentional responses to the outside world. Through this process of self-exploration and self-understanding, an unexpected transformation usually emerges where one becomes more centered, more peaceful, more purposeful. Moreover, such understanding brings about a sense of compassion and respect for ourselves, and for those around us.

Dr. Carandang reminds us that being kind to ourselves is just as important as being kind to others. She says,

“In some ways, the way they teach mindfulness in the West is a little different from how it is taught in the East. In the West, mindfulness is described as paying total attention on what’s going inside you without judgment. In the Eastern way, mindfulness is described in the same way, but with the addition of doing it with warmth and kindness.  I think that’s so important- practicing mindfulness while being kind to yourself.”

“In general, we are socialized as Filipino women, myself included, and are raised to think we have to help others first before ourselves, lest we be selfish. But how can you help when you’re so frantic,so stressed? You cannot. But if you help yourself first and be mindful, be attuned to what’s going on inside you and be calm, then you can be effective in helping the other person. But it’s so revolutionary. It’s so counter culture.“

5.      Mindfulness is a moral obligation. We owe it to our families, our society, and our country.

When we embody mindfulness, we allow ourselves to be fully present in the moment, to be fully present when we are with others. It paves the way for us to be authentic and sincere in our interactions; it allows us the space to give due respect to the people we interact with, and to fully give of our mental and emotional selves in the moment. It makes parents become better mothers and fathers to their children, bosses better leaders, spouses better partners. Dr. Carandang calls for those especially in positions of leadership and influence to practice mindfulness in how they make decisions, how they conduct themselves, and how they help shape our country’s future.

On an individual level, Dr. Carandang explains that practicing mindfulness can have a significant and positive impact on the person we are interacting with. “When a person is listened to fully, something happens, the person becomes empowered. When I’m listening to you mindfully, deeply and totally with my total presence I’m giving you the message that you are worthy, you are important.  And when we give that message – without even saying it- to other person, there’s a transformation that happens inside the other person. It’s one of the best gifts you can give to anyone. And it’s very difficult. “Dr. Carandang feels that mindfulness is particularly important for our country, amidst the tragedies we cannot control (e.g., natural calamities) and those that we can (e.g., political scandals). She states, “It’s amazing how mindfulness is a real needed revolution in our society. There’s pro-activeness and then there’s reactiveness. We need to be pro-active and clear-minded. Like if the water is murky and moving all the time it cannot reflect the moon. The moon will be distorted. So if your mind is not calm and your body is not calm, you will see things not as they are. You will see things in a distorted way.”

Nonetheless, she is optimistic and hopeful that the Filipino people will eventually grow in practicing mindfulness as a way of life; she holds on to the message of Pope Francis - to take time and pause, to act intentionally, and then to rest in God.

Dr. Carandang states, “I was so affirmed because that was what the Pope was saying… rest. He said rest in God. When the Pope pays attention to a person, it is so sacred, because he is totally there; among the millions of people you feel like you are the only one because he is totally with you. That’s why people just look at him and they feel special, they feel blessed because he is so mindful. That’s his magic. It’s a sacred reverence for life. That’s our first mindfulness training, reverence for life…Dr. Carandang reflects further on the Pope’s words: “I don’t know what to say to you… All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart.” which she interprets to mean, “He doesn’t have words but he’s there, with his silent heart-that in itself is mindfulness; that in itself is healing. “

Dr. Carandang strongly feels that a quiet revolution is needed: an upheaval of the current state of affairs, a disruption of our current fast-paced, highly-distractible, multi-tasking, overly-stimulated lifestyle. Disruption by mindfulness- by taking pause and focusing our minds, our emotions, our actions with intentions to create, develop, and shine a light onthat which can propagate more good.

Dr. Carandang told us that she has felt her own life change for the better through the practice of mindfulness and thus feels compelled to share this perspective, to spread the word, to educate and encourage others unto this way of being.

As for us, we truly are but neophytes, just new to the journey of learning and practicing what it means to be more mindful and balanced. We look forward to continuing to grow in our practice of mindfulness, and to make positive changes in how we live our lives, view the world, and interact with others. Though we only had four group sessions with Dr. Carandang since December, practicing mindfulness has already made a positive impact in our lives, and we too feel compelled to share this knowledge with others, in the hope that their lives may also be touched and transformed.

Perhaps that is what Dr. Carandang means by a ‘quiet revolution’… a movement that happens gradually, seemingly intangibly, evidenced only by the subtle stirring of a change within. 



Dr. Ma. Lourdes “Honey” Carandang is a clinical psychologist. She graduated with an AB in Psychology from the University of the Philippines, and later earned her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University, and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of California (Davies). Dr. Carandang has been a practicing psychologist for more than 40 years, offering psychotherapy and play therapy services to children, adults and families. She has been given a National Social Scientist Award, among other accolades. She is the founder of the Philippine Association for Child and Play Therapy, and the MLAC Psychological Services for Well-Being. She did a five-day intensive live in mindfulness training with Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, first in New York and the second one in Thailand. She did an intensive training in the Center for Mindfulness in the University of Massachusetts founded by Jon Kabat-zin, and also attended the teachings of the Dalai Lama in Boston. She is a professor, a sought-after speaker and trainer, a published researcher and author of more than 13 books. 

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