Mindfulness : Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility
“I think, therefore I am” is the age-old adage by mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes. It is frequently quoted by academicians and the general mass alike, yet its implications are far from being fully understood. What did Descartes truly mean with this intriguing statement? Do the psychological implications of this statement run deeper than we think? We can only speculate, but perhaps Ellen Langer can help us.
Langer, The Author
When she was in mid-20s, Ellen Langer was diagnosed by doctors as potentially having epilepsy, as suggested by her occasional fainting. Not succumbing to the diagnosis, she mentally “caught” herself as she felt faint, eventually leading to the disappearance of fainting. This experience led her to explore the power of people to control their lives. For over 30 years, she has been studying how people can control their health and basically their daily lives through being mindful of limitless possibilities.
As a social psychologist, she focuses on the concept of mindfulness and how it particularly impacts health and workplace behavior. In 1989 she published the bestseller “Mindfulness”, a book that puts forward the principles and benefits of mindfulness in the lives of people. In her most recent book, “Counterclockwise”, she puts forward even more riveting discussions on health and science.
Summary and Review of the Book
The book can be considered as a collection of groundbreaking scientific studies that defy the dominant Western perspective on health and science. It is intriguing, unconventional, yet practically relevant to the modern-age generation.
In the book, Langer challenged most of what we think about health and science as nothing but limitations imposed by traditional scientific paradigms. The state of health of an individual depends highly on the mind rather than on what medicine science tells us. In a controversial study conducted by Langer back in 1979, for example, she showed that the physical health of elderly men was largely dictated by their ways of thinking. By thinking and living as if it was 1959, the elderlies showed undeniable improvements in memory, appetite, nimbleness, hearing, and overall well being.
The results of this study, along with other notable studies presented in the book, are proofs, which you can judge and weigh for yourself, that our physical world is governed by our mental world. Another popular phenomenon of note is the placebo effect, wherein patients are healed by tablets, drinks, and
procedures with no therapeutic properties whatsoever simply because they believed and were 100% convinced that they would be healed. What we think, so we are. Sounds familiar?
Socioculturalists, sociologists, linguists, medical practitioners and communication researchers might particularly love her discussion of the unnoticed patterns of vocabulary in the world of medicine and how these patterns shape the way we view ourselves, others and the world. She questions the mostly ignored things like the use of words “chronic”, “acute”, “cure”, “remission”, among
others. She argues that our concepts of health – aging, morbidity, incurable, to name a few – are all but a product of language invented by humans.
Not leaving her readers with no practical guideline on how to improve their thinking and physical lives, Langer provides useful discussions on the concept of mindfulness. Being mindful means being present in the moment, actively engaging in it and making room for creativity and possibilities. She steers us clear from mindlessly going through the motions of life and directs us to a more mindful existence – mindful in the sense that we are aware of the way we do and label things.
All of these tenets result to an existence not merely dictated by societal norms and cues, but an existence with the awareness that limitations are produced only by the mind. Hopeful and practical, the main takeaway of the book is we can achieve health and vitality in our lives by simple modifications in the way we think, speak and see the world. Langer offers results of studies that are hard to ignore and which will make you question the very core principles inside your head that dictate, and potentially limit, your very existence.