Oxford University Professor Mark Williams’s book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World (co-authored with Danny Penman) explores how we can use mindfulness meditation to better our emotional well-being. He is the founder of the Oxford Mindfulness Center.
‘I think the greatest gift meditation has given to me is enabling me to tune-in to the life I have rather than dreaming about the life I might one day have.’
Professor Mark Williams has spent years studying the preventative benefits of mindfulness meditation to patients susceptible to depression. He explains ‘people who are vulnerable to depression react to small changes in mood, such as a little bit of sadness, with a huge amount of frustration or anger or hopelessness. Instead of passing naturally in its own time the sadness tends to get locked in by our very reactions to sadness. Those reactions are understandable but not essential.’ Professor Williams alongside colleagues John Teasdale (Cambridge) and Zindel Segal (Toronto) developed a mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to offer meditation as a means of dealing with those changes in emotions and reactions to them that might lead to a new episode of depression. What they discovered was not only was it successful in preventing some patients developing more serious depression but could also be applicable to a wider audience. Mindfulness meditation became a ‘personal practice as well as a new approach to mental health’ for Mark Williams.
Alongside Danny Penman, Williams has released a best-selling book offering an 8 week guided meditation course that can offer assistance in not only anxiety and depression but a general well-being and calming focus in what he describes as a ‘frantic world.’ Williams explains ‘people’s basic attention span is probably the same as it always was, but I think there are far more distracting things to do that pull our attention away. Social media is a good example: it appeals to the very basic aspect of ourselves that likes to communicate with other people. But then it is hard to stay on one thing when other things are distracting us. We end up not finishing one task because something else came in to distract us. You end up switching all the time from one task to another, and such constant switching has costs. But I think the new generation coming up might find new ways to deal with that. I have a great faith that people will discover ways of self-correcting.’
Williams suggests meditating about two sessions of at least 10 minutes/day. He explains ‘the important thing is to do something regularly. Even if it’s just a minute or two. The hard part is getting from your bed to your meditation chair or stool. When you get there you’ll know how long to stay.‘ Meditation, however, is not a prescription for everyone. ‘There is no doubt it can help many, many people but its useful to take it slowly. If there are unwanted effects, you don’t have to grit your teeth and carry on regardless. You might give it a break and get back to it when you feel more able to do so.’
Meditation has brought benefits to Professor Williams’ own personal life. He explains that meditation has given him a sense of having more time each day. He states ‘Its allowed me to make choices more often a day about what I say and do. If you do this work it is almost inevitable that you are more awake more moments of the day. You appreciate small moments more. You become more aware of what you are doing. You don’t miss so many slices of your life, even the little moments.