The world is confusing and unsettling, even more so now than ever before, and more of us than ever are finding it affecting our mental wellbeing. We are more likely to suffer from a psychological disorder than we are to develop diabetes, heart disease or any kind of cancer.
But go searching for guidance amongst the mountain of information about what we should eat and drink, how much to sleep and exercise, and what we should do or avoid, and you could get lost.
That was the case for Australian health journalist Shannon Harvey, whose one-year journey exploring mindfulness became the film My Year of Living Mindfully.
The epic story begins as a year-long experiment and ends up a life-changing experience – and telling it has won Harvey and husband Julian the Best Film gong at the 2020 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival, the biggest science film festival in the Southern Hemisphere.
Harvey’s search for the brain’s equivalent of a 30-minute jog around the block, or the mind’s daily serving of five fruit and vegetables, led her to mindfulness meditation – the ancient mental awareness practice. In recent years, it has been shown to be just as effective as medication and psychotherapy in treating everything from chronic stress and pain, to depression, anxiety and addiction.
However to find out exactly whether it was having an effect, or really was just all in her mind, Harvey enlisted a team of scientists to track her brain structure and function, stress hormones, immune system, gene expression and cellular ageing to see what would change if she meditated every day for a year.
What begins as a story into whether it can help her ended up leading Harvey on a 30,000-kilometre trek around the world, from the bright lights of Manhattan to one of the world’s largest refugee camps, where she met a community of African refugees turning to mindfulness for severe post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by war, torture and homelessness.
“As a health journalist and filmmaker who strives to make science-based storytelling accessible, this is an incredible acknowledgement, opportunity and above all, a true honour,” she says.
The film blew away the judges with its story and its impact on the audience.
“This film did a great job of linking the personal experience which can often be dismissed as anecdotal to scientific research which can often be viewed as dismissive of practices like mindfulness and meditation that originate in spirituality,” says judge Lee Constable.
“I personally have dipped my toe into meditation and mindfulness through my background in theatre studies and the occasional yoga class, but my ADHD mind is not one to slow down or become silent for even a second so I have always struggled to reap the benefits that others find.
“Watching this year-long journey was a good reminder of the dedication and practice that not only mindfulness, but all of the brain rewiring we embark on to better ourselves, can take.”
My Year of Living Mindfully will form part of the program for this year’s SCINEMA Festival and is free to view from 27 May until 3 June. You’ll have a different perspective afterward.
Sign up to watch here.
Ben Lewis is a science communicator with the Royal Institution of Australia.
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