When are we ever really present? Though we may not be conscious of it, we're constantly seeking ways to distract ourselves. We feel pressure to check our phones for emails or texts, refresh our Instagram feeds for new photos to peruse, be the first to spot a breaking news story on Twitter — the list goes on. Needless to say, we're never truly alone with our thoughts. And being a prominent news reporter, Anderson Cooper knows this life all too well.
"I'm on mobile devices all day long," said Cooper on last night's 60 Minutes. "I feel like I could go through an entire day and not be present ... It's exhausting."
In his segment, Cooper, though skeptical, immerses himself completely in the world of mindfulness, embarking on a weekend-long mindfulness retreat with the man who's largely responsible for the movement's traction, Jon Kabat-Zinn. A meditation expert of over 47 years, Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and developer of the popular eight-week long mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program.
Cooper says to Kabat-Zinn, "I don't feel I'm very present in each moment. I feel like every moment I'm either thinking about something that's coming down the road, or something that's been in the past."
To this, Kabat-Zinn aptly responds, "So ultimately all this preparing is for what? For the next moment, like the last moment, like, and then we're dead ... We're only alive now."
Mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts, physical and emotional sensations, and surroundings — purposefully and non-judgmentally. As someone who's constantly scouring the news for the latest health finding, I find a new study every week about the benefits of mindfulness on the brain. And ironically, since I'm always reading about it, I'm probably not practicing it enough. I, too, could use a lesson on just being.
Cooper's retreat included a strict no-electronics policy, lots of meditation, breathing exercises, and silent meals — mostly "just sitting there." He says he wasn't particularly thrilled to give up his phone, because he usually checks his email several times an hour. At first, he worried he wasn't practicing mindfulness correctly because he kept thinking about work.
But by the end of the weekend, Cooper says he was so sold on the cognitive benefits of mindfulness, he's been meditating daily. He told his producer on 60 Minutes Overtime, "I realized on this story, sitting in that meditation retreat, this is exactly what I need ... It sounds like I've sort of drunk the Kool Aid, but in a way, I have sort of drunk the Kool Aid."
You can watch the entire segment here.