This speech first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January 2015
First, I wrote a feature article on mindfulness. Then I looked at how I would need to change the style of writing so that it stopped being a feature article and read like a speech instead. I recommend you read the feature article first [click here].
To help you to appreciate the stylistic difference between the spoken and the written word, I’ve used the same topic, the same structure and the same ideas but I’ve transformed it into a speech. Your task is to spot the differences between them.
There are 7 significant differences as well as lots of subtle rephrasing so that it sounds like spoken language – something to be listened to rather than read off a page.
Speech on Mindfulness
Hi everyone. You’re very welcome. If this is your first time attending a meeting of the Literary and Debating society, please give us your email details on the sheet we’re passing around so we can contact you about future events. In the meantime, it’s my great pleasure to welcome Susan Mullane to the podium. Susan will be speaking to us today about mindfulness.
Hi everyone, I’m Susan as you’ve just heard. I’m studying to be a journalist and I recently wrote a feature on mindfulness that I’m currently trying to get published.
Before we debate the merits of mindfulness I’d like you to experience them, so you can pass judgement actually knowing what it is we’re talking about. So I’d like everyone in the room now to close your eyes. I need everyone to do this so no-one feels silly. Now breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your core. Feel it flow into your limbs. Cleanse your mind of all thoughts. Now focus your attention, slowly, on each part of your body in turn. Become aware of your feet. Now move your awareness up to your calves… into your thighs… now your abdomen… your hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. The tick of the clock. The breathing of the person beside you. The birds outside the window. Allow your thoughts to wander and as each new thought appears, let it flow away. Focus on the now. Be aware of your body. Become aware of your breadth. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. And repeat. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Now when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.
Ok, how do you feel? (giggles in response)
Can you share with the room? (pointing to someone in the front row). Silly, ok! Anyone else? (taking a show of hands) Yep, in the third row? Relaxed… sleepy. Anyone up the back? Cynical. Ok, so you don’t think this works? Who else is a cynic? (show of hands)
Well, let me assure you you’re not alone. Lots of people, when they hear the term mindfulness, the first thing that springs to mind is hippies in a Volkswagen camper van. It’s all a bit touchy-feely isn’t it? The second major criticism of mindfulness people have is that as it’s entered the mainstream, it’s lost any real connection to its roots in Buddhism. So critics say it’s no longer about the quest to discover what it means to live a moral life and that corporations have just put on a show of caring about how their employees feel but really they just want to get more work out of you. As in, 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! In fact, critics of the way mindfulness courses have been churned out by consultants to big business have given it a new name and labelled it McMindfulness (click to show image of a cow meditating outside a well-known fast food chain on screen. Pause for laughter)
But the question I want to ask today is does that matter? There is no doubt that mindfulness is a full on craze. It’s been brought into schools and nursing homes and even prisons. But just because something is popular, does not make it worthless. And just because it’s been adapted from its original form does not make it toxic.
So I decided I’d focus instead on answering one basic question: DOES IT WORK?
I’ve going to play you a little video now. It’s full of vox pops from people who reckon it does work:
Video: Direct to camera: ‘Hi I’m Karen Miles. I’m the founder meinmind.ie and I’m a big believer in mindfulness. Here are some of the things Irish people who use my site have said about practising mindfulness in their daily lives’.
Quotes accompanied by soothing classical music “I’ve seen it transform my own life” Clare, 52, Mayo. “I am so glad I did this. I find I get a lot less stressed about the small stuff” Annette, 35, Louth. “Feeling calm. Have been following the tips on your site for four months and I don’t know myself” Jennifer, via facebook. “@seanlala Thanks @meinmind Your site helped me to get through the stress of my exams” Sean, 17.
I’m going to stop the video there because it goes on for three more minutes but it’s really just more of the same. Now there is an argument to say that the placebo effect could play a role here. If you try something and you believe it’s going to make you better, then chances are it will have a positive impact on your health. So the next thing I did was look for research studies. There are a lot of studies out there on meditation, but not as many on mindfulness. But I did find a metaanalysis collecting together all of the mindfulness studies that do exist. It was created by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and they concluded only last year, in 2014, that mindfulness does indeed have an effect. They say, and I quote “Following a mindfulness programme reduces many of the most toxic elements of stress, including anxiety and depression”.
Of course they also include a warning about the limitations of this practice. So there’s no evidence that it alters your eating habits, helps you lose weight or to sleep better. And 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.
So having debated the pros and cons my conclusion is this. If you can afford behavioural therapies, by all means do that too. Eating healthily and getting exercise remain important, but this isn’t an either or scenario. Do it all if it makes you feel better.
My mother used to say ‘Everything that helps, helps‘. When I was a teenager, there was one day I was prowling the house, completely stressed out about the Leaving Cert, and I guess I was annoying her because she suddenly went to the press, hauled out a stack of old plates and said ‘would you ever go and smash those. It might calm you down’. So I did. And it was wonderful. I wish I had a whole stack of plates I could give you right now so we could go outside and have a plate smashing festival. I’ll never forget the liberating joy of wilful destruction I experienced that day. I was aware of my body, I was aware of my surroundings, I was caught up in the present moment and I felt a hell of a lot better afterwards. It didn’t last forever, that feeling, but it did last for a couple of days.
So those are the conclusions I came to, which is that it won’t do you any harm and chances are it will do you a lot of good! Now I need to ask you to show a thumbs up or a thumbs down for mindfulness, and then we can all launch into a more detailed debate, but before we do that there is one more argument in favour of mindfulness that I haven’t mentioned. I think here in Ireland it’s something we need. I think we’ve been severely challenged these last couple of years by austerity, and by high unemployment and by emigration. And I think embracing mindfulness has not been about pretending everything is fine. I think its popularity is a sign that we know everything’s not fine and we’re trying to do something about it and find coping mechanisms that’ll help us to get through it.
So before we vote, will everyone again please close your eyes. Breathe in. Feel the oxygen flood your body, feel it flow into your limbs. Focus your mind on your feet… calves… thighs… abdomen… hands… arms… chest… shoulders… neck… head… face. Listen to the sounds in the room. And now you can open your eyes. Thanks for your attention.
I think you’re ready to vote!
*For the list of the most significant differences between the article and the speech, click here.