|Year : 2022 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 1-5
“Dolce far niente” and mindfulness
Harpreet Singh Dhillon1, Shibu Sasidharan2, Gurpreet Kaur Dhillon3, Babitha Manalikuzhiyil4
1 Department of Psychiatry, Command Hospital, Chandimandir, Haryana, India
2 Department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Command Hospital, Chandimandir, India
3 Department of Pediatrics, Command Hospital, Chandimandir, Haryana, India
4 Department of Radiodiagnosis, Ojas Hospital, Panchkula, Haryana, India
|Date of Submission||05-Jul-2021|
|Date of Decision||16-Sep-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||15-Nov-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||10-Feb-2022|
Dr. Harpreet Singh Dhillon
Department of Psychiatry, Command Hospital, Chandimandir
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
In this fast-paced stressful life, can the art of doing nothing be the key to psychological well-being? In this review article, we have proposed and reviewed that how can you make your idle moments and acts of daily living pleasurable when combined with the principles of Mindfulness. The neurobiological basis for the same has also been explored, which however warrants rigorous research in future. The potential benefits of mindfulness-based interventions on various psychiatric and physical disorders have been discussed. The need for standardized, longitudinal studies with a specific type of mindfulness-based interventions has been impressed upon to draw definite conclusions.
Keywords: Art, COVID-19, mindfulness, mental health
|How to cite this article:|
Dhillon HS, Sasidharan S, Dhillon GK, Manalikuzhiyil B. “Dolce far niente” and mindfulness. MRIMS J Health Sci 2022;10:1-5
| Introduction|| |
We live in a world that demand and endorses instant gratification. The current lifestyle of our generation is inarguably ultra fast-paced and stressful, both in developed as well as developing world. The majority of us wish to attain or experience almost everything under the sun, which is presumably pleasurable/comfortable. However, in our never-ending race against ephemeral pleasures, we have forgotten to truly relax and enjoy the small and easily available enduring pleasures in life. COVID-19 pandemic with consequent lockdowns has severely disrupted the established daily routines, uncertainty about the disease, infodemic on the social media, dwindling economy, anxiety and fear in the environment has wrecked further havoc to the already deteriorating psychological health.
The mere thought of doing nothing in today's fast-paced life can be overwhelming, but, what if we propose and argue that the art of doing nothing can not only recharge our batteries but also lead to psychological well-being. However, before we begin, let me allay your apprehensions by a disclaimer that I am not promoting, that you should just lay around scrolling your gadgets, but instead immerse yourself in the “awareness of the present moment” akin to “Mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention, described by Kabat-Zinn as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience.” The concept of mindfulness has been variedly understood ranging from a particular mental state to a set of specific skills and techniques. The practitioners of mindfulness report that concentrating on the present moment body functions and sensations leads to heightened awareness and clarity in perceptual capabilities leading to pleasurable states.
During the past two decades, mindfulness has been shown to be effective in promoting physical and psychological well-being across various situations ranging from healthy adults to specific milieus such as school or workplace.[5-7]
Consequent to the evidence-based documented benefits of mindfulness; there has been an upsurge in the practice of mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) skills to foster psychological well-being. Therefore, structured mindfulness-based techniques have become an important part of modern society's way of life, especially in the west.
However, our endeavor in this review is to integrate the principles and benefits of mindfulness into periods of idleness; and while carrying on with the most essential and mundane daily chores. We have also endeavored to draw parallels between the principles of mindfulness and the Italian art of doing nothing, i.e., Dolce far Niente.
| Origin, Concept, and Contemporary Standing|| |
The term “Mindfulness” originated from Northeast India and is derived from Sanskrit word “smrti.” It traveled from India via China, Japan, Korea and imbibed the wisdom of these various cultures before being introduced to western world by Jon Kabat-Zinn in September 1979 at the University of Massachusetts. It was carefully assessed and presented with sound scientific backing so as to avoid being labeled as a bohemian movement. It is because of this diligent effort that during present times; it is considered the next revolution in public health in the western culture. Mindfulness has become omnipresent in western world with numerous books on the topic ranging from mindful parenting, mindful teaching, mindful eating, mindful financial management, and mindful leadership.
Unfortunately, it took a backseat for various reasons in the Asian countries where it originated. However, due to the current lifestyle with soaring psychological burden across all ages and significant exaggeration by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more of a necessity than a choice to re-introduce the principles of mindfulness. It is even more important to integrate these principles with the routine chores in poorer countries that cannot afford dedicated and structured MBIs. The proponents of Mindfulness advocate that even the mere act of inhaling and exhaling can be made extremely pleasurable only if we focus and enhance our attention to the same. Building on the same, we recommend the following.
The most fundamental of the bodily functions can result in lasting pleasurable and soothing psychological states while doing nothing else, provided one learns the art of paying sustained and focused attention on the very process by being fully aware in that particular moment. We can start by sitting in a relaxed posture with slow inhalation followed by a pause and an even slower exhale. We need to closely monitor and be aware about the air entering our nose, going down the respiratory tract into the lungs, and simply appreciating the phenomenal power of this sequence of events sustaining the life. Now, experience intently, as this air leaves your body and provides you with a sense of security and gratification. Mindful breathing can be objectively defined as deep inhale through nostrils (03 s), holding breath (02 s), and a long exhale through mouth (04 s). Although it's a common temptation to label Mindfulness as meditation, there exist important differences. The word “meditation” is derived from Latin “meditari,” which means “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” Mindfulness, on the other hand, despite sharing a deep historical and conceptual similarity with Buddhist philosophy, is “paying attention in a non judgemental way, on purpose, in the present moment.” Mindfulness is a state of “presence of mind,” and is different from usual wakefulness, which is usually characterized by several biases, defenses, ruminative thinking, projections, and misunderstandings. Hence, this simple act of paying intense attention to the act of breathing is an art, which if we practice, might provide us the benefits of Mindfulness.
Walk 10–15 steps along the chosen lane, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. Turn, and walk back in the opposite direction to the other end of the lane, pause, and breathe again. While walking, concentrate on your breath and the movements of the feet and legs, and contact of your feet to the ground. You should try and concentrate on all perceptions through your sensory organs.
Another significant aim of the art of doing nothing is to accomplish complete relaxation in the true sense. You need to be in a comfortable position and start by deliberately tensing your muscles, holding it for a moment, and then relaxing it over a period of time. You need to start from great toe to muscles of the foot, ankle, leg, calf, thighs in one limb followed by the other. While doing so, you need to be absolutely aware of the phenomenon by paying nonjudgmental sustained attention akin to mindfulness.
Flavor and feeling
Other routine acts such as eating/drinking/sensations of touch can be made blissful by paying sustained attention during the process to the process itself. You need to rid yourself from the distractions of food, books, or gadgets and choose the beverage of your choice, for example, tea, coffee, or wine. You can enhance your sensitivity by shutting down other senses by closing your eyes and focus entirely on the taste, smell, texture, and temperature while savoring every drop of it before swallowing. You need to experience the feeling of it going down your throat. If you can master this process, you can make your routine daily chores ecstatic.
Doing nothing while experiencing and appreciating the nature around us can provide gratification. You need not visit a beech, lake, river, woods, etc., but can start from your courtyard by observing the intricate design of a flower, staring into the sky, appreciating the fact that a tree in your lawn is releasing oxygen which is essential for your survival, etc., You need to monitor that your mind is not wandering aimlessly and is truly living the experience by paying attention in the present moment.
The concept of mindfulness requires regulation of attention, emotional control and self-awareness. Attention needs to be regulated to monitor present moment experiences such as thoughts, emotions, sensations, body postures, and also to keep a watch against being judgmental. The research in this field is still in infancy but neuroimaging studies have shown three areas of the brain, which showed increased activity during functional scans while practicing mindfulness. The caudate along with putamen was found to be involved in disengagement of attention from irrelevant information. The medial prefrontal cortex was found to be involved in self-awareness and entorhinal cortex was involved in controlling the stream of thoughts. There are 03 functional neural networks believed to be involved during mindfulness namely, default mode network (DMN), salience network (SN), and central executive networks (CEN). The focus on the present experience was most strongly related to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation of the CEN. The DMN was associated with mind wandering while awareness of mind wandering was linked with activation of SN. The shifting of attention back to focus on the present experience was again linked with the activation of CEN. There has obviously been no neurocognitive research on the art of doing nothing but it is not very farfetched to assume that in addition to subjective well being, there must be occurring neuro-endocrino-immunological and even neuroanatomical changes in the brain. This needs to be studied in future research.
| Clinical Implications of Mindfulness|| |
Reward seeking is ubiquitous and adaptive in humans. Functional alterations were shown to persist during resting state in motivation and reward processing areas of the brain (Caudate and putamen) in a group of people postmindfulness training. The activation in the above-mentioned brain areas was shown to be lesser during extrinsic reward anticipation (money, social approval). Enhanced self-awareness as seen in mindful training is believed to dampen the impact of external rewards and enhance sensitivity to intrinsic rewards which are obtained by creativity, intrinsic motivation, task performance, and subjective well-being. Thus, if we can combine the art of doing nothing along with principles of mindfulness, we might be able to unearth the source of perpetual psychological well-being and creativity without depending on extrinsic sources of motivation.
Mental health promotion
A recent meta-analysis of studies on mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) in nonclinical settings revealed that compared to taking no actions, MBPs do promote mental health. The art of doing nothing combined with principles of Mindfulness can thus be proposed for mental health promotion.
Mindfulness and enhanced self-awareness prepare us for better emotional regulation. Individuals who practice meditation experience their feelings clearly, distinctively, and are able to manage their affect better. This empowers them to quickly and effectively control disturbing emotions.
Mindfulness mitigates the psychological, behavioral, and physiological changes associated with adverse and traumatic childhood events, including depression and posttraumatic stress disorde. Hence, the role of mindfulness and consequently enhanced awareness about self and surroundings can be beneficial in children with adverse childhood experiences. Reangsing in a meta-analysis on effects of mindfulness interventions on depressive symptoms in adolescent's recommends that MBI as adjunctive/alternative treatment for adolescents with mild or moderate depressive symptoms as well as for at-risk adolescents to prevent depression. MBIs were found to improve the psychological symptoms and quality of life in a systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of MBIs on military veterans. Hofmann in a meta-analysis reported mindfulness-based therapy as a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations. MBIs are frequently used as augmentation therapies in addition to standard pharmacotherapy/psychotherapy interventions. However, in a systematic review and meta-analysis, the effect of stand-alone regular mindfulness exercises was shown to be beneficial on symptoms of anxiety and depression. The maximum efficacy of MBIs has been found in treating and preventing recurrent depression and hence National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends it as the psychological treatment of choice.,
In a systematic review for the treatment of substance (alcohol, smoking) and behavioral (gambling) addictions, MBIs were found to be successful in reducing craving and also improving mood state and emotion dysregulation.
A recent systematic rview and meta-analysis by Hodann-Caudevilla et al. on evidence regarding the effectiveness of MBIs in patients with schizophrenia suggested that MBIs combined with standard interventions led to significant improvement in intensity of overall symptomatology, positive and negative symptoms, functionality, and insight into the illness.
MBIs have been found to effectively reduce anxiety and depression among patients with cancer in general and breast cancer in specific., MBIs have been found to be beneficial in Chronic pain nonresponsive to standard analgesics and high blood pressure, although the differences obtained were not statistically significant., MBI's in a systematic review and meta-analysis, suggested benefits on HbA1c, depression, stress, and diabetes-related distress in people with diabetes. MBIs were found to significantly improve pain intensity, depression, and symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis compared with conventional therapy.
| Discussion|| |
There are various MBI's which are available to us for various psychological conditions. These include Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which encompasses mindful attention to the body sensations called “body scans” and application of mindful practices in daily life. Other MBIs include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression, Mindfulness-Based Dialectical Therapy for borderline personality disorder, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for substance use disorders, mindfulness-based relationship enhancement to improve relationship functioning, and internet and smartphone mindfulness-based interventions.
In this review, we are trying to draw parallels between the principles of MBSR and the Italian art of doing nothing, i.e., Dolce far Niente meaning “sweetness of doing nothing.” It does not mean being lazy; instead, it's the idea of finding pleasure in idleness or relaxation. The application of Body scans when lying idle and mindful practices in daily life chores is proposed to enhance the psychological well-being. This is a different sort of doing nothing in which despite being physically inert, the individual is psychologically alert to his surroundings. The notion that we cannot relax and enjoy the nothingness, need to be changed by amalgamating it with the principles of mindfulness. There has been ample evidence regarding the physical, psychological, and preventive benefits of MBIs as discussed earlier, which can be extrapolated to the routine life chores by being mindful. We can start practicing “Dolce far Niente” while waiting in a line, on a bus, or waiting at the airport without reading a newspaper/magazine, without talking on the phone/checking your email, without writing out your to-do list. Instead, we just need to concentrate on our breathing or try one of the relaxtion techniques discussed earlier. It provides us with the opportunity to be in the moment and gaining clarity about what is truly important at the core. The COVID-19 pandemic with consequent lockdowns, ample free time, bursting social media feeds with ever-rising number of infected and fatal cases creating an environment of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety with severe disruption of routine lifestyle further reiterates the importance of applying the priniciples of MBI's into periods of idleness and routine life practices. Mindfulness-based interventions do not have any documented adverse events.
The way forward
The available data on this novice topic are scarce and further research needs to use longitudinal, adequate sample-sized randomized controlled research designs to advance our understanding of the mechanisms of mindfulness with neuroanatomy and brain networks.
| Conclusion|| |
The art of doing nothing coupled with mindfulness principles can improve psychological well-being in a healthy adult population. However, the neurobiological changes at structural, neurotransmitter, neuroendocrine, and neurophysiological levels need to be objectively measured by rigorous research.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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