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Mind the gap

01 May 2019 / Wellbeing Print

Mind the gap!

A famous Indian yoga teacher was once asked by a student how he might give up smoking. The reply came as something of a shock:

“Don’t stop smoking – very bad for your health – the effort to stop creates tension in the mind. You must not stop smoking!”


“But, if you are going to smoke, then smoke. Fill your lungs to capacity, feel the rush of the nicotine as it hits your bloodstream. You see, if you truly smoked – smoked with full awareness – it would be difficult to get through even one cigarette ever again!”


In other words, when we are fully aware, we will act in our (and others’) best interest. Awareness, or mindfulness, is not a difficult idea to grasp. However, the daily practice of mindfulness can be quite a challenge.

We live in an age of distraction and alienation from ourselves, from our bodies, from others and from our environment. It’s not surprising then that mindfulness has become something of a buzzword (if not a bit of a cliché) in recent times.

Heart/mindfulness is about creating a space to step back and observe our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Then we can choose our response, rather than constantly reacting to the daily pressures of work. We get to see the ingrained ‘stinking thinking’ of the mind and practice what I call ‘emotional hygiene’.

Harsh inner dialogue

In my clinical work as a psychotherapist, I am always struck how most of my clients, many of them lawyers, have an extremely harsh inner dialogue running the show, one which is constantly judging and criticising, and which is too rarely compassionate and understanding. No wonder it is hard to sit quietly! Give me my phone, or my drink, or my work status, or … anything, rather than face myself honestly, and compassionately.

Nowadays, there is a growing realisation of the need to attend to our mental (and emotional) health.

Rather than wait for the stresses and strains of work to make us ill, how would it be if, instead, every office and workplace had a ‘quiet room’ where people could take some time to simply sit quietly – to literally take a breather – where the emotional/mental hygiene of daily mindfulness was as natural as brushing one’s teeth?

To paraphrase the French philosopher Pascal: “All men’s ills derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Seán Ó Tarpaigh
Seán Ó Tarpaigh is a psychotherapist with the Law Society’s Counselling Service