This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January 2015.

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Meditating on Mindfulness

Hocus Pocus or Miracle Cure?

Susan Mullane

Close your eyes. Breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your core, flow into your limbs and cleanse your mind. Focus your mind, slowly, on your feet… calves… thighs… abdomen… hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. Allow your thoughts to wander and as they appear, let them flow away. Focus on the now. You are, I am, we are. Body. Breadth. Sensation.

For some, buying into the promise of mindfulness seems like a Volkswagen camper van too far. It’s all a bit touchy-feely, hippy-dippy, thanks but no thanks, I’d rather have tea and a scone to relax. For others, it is the infiltration of mindfulness into the popular consciousness that they find unforgivable. If it had remained a minority pursuit, imported after one too many trips to Buddhist temples in Nepal, at least it would have retained some essence of its roots. But, critics argue, divorcing mindfulness from the quest for a moral life makes it an exercise in accepting the status quo, something that plays into the hands of the very forces, mostly corporate, who have popularised it for their own machiavellian purposes. Reducing stress via ten minutes of mindfulness a day boosts your employees productivity and that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring extra staff! McMindfulness indeed!

But if mindfulness has made self-help gurus rich, as they pump out books promoting their expensive residential courses, does that in and of itself negate the benefits of a craze that has penetrated so deeply into our communities, reaching into schools, prisons and nursing homes? For me, the logic here is absurd. Just because something is popular, does not make it worthless. Just because it’s been adapted from its original form does not make it toxic. It may have made men rich, but perhaps that’s because it works.

I spoke to Karen Miles, a staunch advocate of mindfulness and founder of popular website meinmind.ie. “I’ve seen it transform my own life” she enthuses “and that’s why I set up the website. I wanted others to experience the same joy, but I realised that first they’d have to believe it’s worth bothering with”. Trawling her site, facebook page and twitter account,  the proliferation of testimonials could well make a believer out of this agnostic. Rather than grandiose claims, simple messages dominate. “I am so glad I did this. It was hard to keep it going by myself at first, but now I practice mindfulness everyday and I find I get a lot less stressed about the small stuff” says Annette, 35 in Louth. “Feeling calm. Have been following the tips on your site for four months and I don’t know myself. Thanks Karen” comments Jennifer on the facebook page. “@seanlala Thanks @meinmind Your site helped me to get through the stress of my exams” tweets Sean, 17. There’s plenty more in this vein, expressing simple gratitude for a coping mechanism that seems to genuinely reduce stress and anxiety in those who need it most.

Nor is mindfulness a new concept, despite what the cynics would have us believe. The earliest reference to myndfulness dates back to 1530 as a translation of the French word pensée. Indeed, Pascal’s book of the same name contains ideas which echo the core message of simply being that still resonates so powerfully with people today. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” he maintains. Perhaps the enduring appeal of every approach that embraces the now, from yoga to pilates; and from meditation to massage, is that it allows us to forget our anxieties, our worries, our fears and to enter into that state of flow which allows us to unconsciously feel at one with the universe.

If all of that feels a little saccharine, perhaps now is an opportune moment to turn to science for some truth. Does it work? Or are we just wasting our time, handing over our hard earned cash to men in expensive suits who simply re-package the wisdom of the ancients for our modern secular age?

Whatever the original source, research by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded in 2014 that mindfulness does indeed have an effect. Following a mindfulness programme reduces many of the most toxic elements of stress, including anxiety and depression. Of course there’s a warning about the limitations of its effect. There’s no evidence that it alters your eating habits, helps you lose weight or sleep better, they add. It’s not better than exercise or behavioural therapies. To which I reply, who cares? Singing daily doesn’t make me better at playing the piano but that does not negate the joy of singing in my life. If I can find something that I can work into my daily practice and build into my life, that makes me less anxious, less stressed and less likely to become depressed, then hallelujah, bring it on.

If you can afford behavioural therapies, by all means do that too. Eating healthily and getting exercise remain the cornerstones of a healthy life, but this isn’t an either or scenario. ‘Everything that helps, helps‘ my mother used to say and she was a woman full of wisdom. In my teens, as I was prowling the house one day, stressed about my impending mock exams, she suddenly went to the press, hauled out a stack of plates from the very back and said ‘would you ever go and smash those. It might calm you down’. She also handed me a plastic bag and a dustpan and brush so I could tidy up after myself. I will never forget the liberating joy of willful destruction I experienced that day. I was aware of my body, aware of my surroundings, caught up in the present moment and relieved entirely of my despair. It didn’t last forever, but I got a few days grace from the experience, the memory of which carried me through many future moments with a smile.

Remember, also, that a societal focus on positive mental health is a wonderful development for a country whose wellbeing has been severely challenged by years of austerity, high unemployment and emigration. Embracing mindfulness is not a pretence that all is fine; rather it reflects an awareness that when all is not fine we need to build our resilience; to learn strategies that help us to cope. As we emerge into better, more hopeful times, retaining our hard earned wisdom to stay connected to that which matters should stand us in good stead in the future, provided me remember to focus on the now.

And how does it work?

Close your eyes. Breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your core, flow into your limbs and cleanse your mind. Focus your mind, slowly, on your feet… calves… thighs… abdomen… hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. Allow your thoughts to wander and as they appear, let them flow away. Focus on the now. You are, I am, we are. Body. Breadth. Sensation.

Writing a feature article: here is the process I went through to create this piece.

Preparation

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Brainstorm ideas
  3. Decide a basic paragraph plan & sequence for your ideas.

 

Writing –  a step by step guide

HEADLINE + SUB-HEADING

BYLINE (journalist’s name)

INTRODUCE AN IDEA = try to grab the readers’ attention from the get go.

PARAGRAPH 2 =  outline the ‘things people say’ about this topic

PARAGRAPH 3 = make your own stance clear

PARAGRAPH 4 = testimonials from people you’ve interviewed

PARAGRAPH 5 = look at the history of this topic or issue

PARAGRAPH 6 = ask some pointed questions

PARAGRAPH 6 = establish what our current understanding is

PARAGRAPH 7 = personal anecdote(s)

PARAGRAPH 8 = Irish context and potential impact on our society going forward

CONCLUSION = come full circle by returning to the original idea from the start of the article
REMEMBER: an article will likely include facts & statistics, rhetorical questions, contrast, anecdotes, quotes from interviewees etc…

 

5 Responses to Feature Article example

  1. Shamainah Merielle P. Lintogonan says:

    i always have a hard time creating a title for a feauture article. how do i overcome this problem?

    • Immerse yourself in feature article titles… open a word doc, copy and paste as many feature article titles as you can find into it. Then look for common words, phrases, approaches. Define what it is that makes a title a good title, something that makes people want to delve deeper. Once you’ve figured out the essence of what makes titles good, you’ll find you’re more able to do it yourself.

      Or try the ‘sum this up in 3 words’ game. Imagine your mum is in the room and you can only say 3 words to her to capture the essence of the article you’re writing. If you had ONLY 3 words what would they be? Then if you use 6, you’ll feel you’ve got LOADS of words to play about with!

  2. Denise says:

    Hello Evelyn,
    Even if this is months late, I really loved your guidance. I was using it to try to understand what feature artic;les are all about for my Feature Writing class and it has really helped!
    Denise.

  3. […] Unlike a hard news story, a feature story dives deeper into the human experience, giving a more descriptive portrayal of what the story is about. (Erickson, 2018) The piece you are writing needs to captivate the audience. You want to paint a clear picture of what you are talking about. Surprising facts, good quotes, and back ground information are some simple ways to help with that. Your notes should be neat and organized so you can easily refer to them. You also want to do a fact check; it is critical to have legitimate information. Another thing that should be taken care of before you write the feature story is make sure all quotes and fine details are accurate like street names, times and dates. When you are writing you want to have a road map of some sort to follow. One good habit is to use a writing style called the inverted pyramid. (Feature Article example. (n.d.)) By using this style, you are telling the key broad facts and main bulk of the story first. As you progress down the pyramid, you my start to go into some side facts that are not as relevant as the chief facts. Arguably the most important part of a feature story is that it is interesting enough to keep the readers attention. It must be something that stands out above the crowd. It should be exciting and have interesting pictures to go along with it. A captivating headline that gives an accurate portrayal of the story is also important to have. (n.d.). The piece needs to be ethical and the writer needs to take into consideration any requests that might have been made by people in the story. The last step to making a good feature story is editing multiple times. Rereading and rewriting is essential to make any writing the best that it can be. Even the most seasoned writers need to double, and triple check their work to make sure that it is the best it can be. (n.d.) References Erickson, M. (2018, March 27). How to Write a Feature Article. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Feature-Article (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from http://www.waptac.org/Print-Media/Feature-Stories.aspx Feature Article example. (n.d.). Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://leavingcertenglish.net/2015/08/feature-article-example/ […]

  4. […] a News Story. (n.d.) References Feature Article example. (n.d.). Retrieved April 06, 2018, from http://leavingcertenglish.net/2015/08/feature-article-example/ How to Write a News Story. (n.d.). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from […]

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