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Mindfulness & Security

Mindfulness is not a substitute for good security policy. Yet, mindfulness is the most critical first step towards both policy and implementation.

Most of our life is spent on auto-pilot. Without really thinking about what we're doing, we go about our day doing things that have the potential to harm ourselves and others. The way we walk, talk, eat, drive, use social media, we are so often just acting out of habit and reacting to stimuli. You may take a lunch break, grab a quick bite to eat, and think that something tastes slightly off, but you're in a hurry because you need to get back to work, and then you have food poisoning. You may get an email telling you that your bank account is overdrawn, and you click on the link to sign on to your online account, and because you were panicked you didn't realize the website wasn't your bank's official website, and now someone unscrupulous has access to your money.

This auto-pilot mode is normal, and has its purpose. I don't have to remember to breathe; it just happens. I don't have to remember which letter is where on the keyboard; my brain thinks words and my muscle memory takes over. It's not a serious problem if we're operating in an optimal environment. The problem is we're almost never operating in an optimal environment. Now more than ever, as we continue to fight a global pandemic, our failure to be mindfully aware of our actions and those around us can have deadly consequences. Every time I go shopping, I'm on the lookout for who isn't wearing masks, how crowded the store is, and how can I quickly get in, get what I need, and get out while keeping my distance from people. These situations are easier to assess when I'm calm and collected. Stress leads to confusion and mistakes, and in both business and life, mistakes can have serious consequences.

Auto-pilot mode happens when we're thinking about things other than this present moment. When I'm obsessing over past wrongs I've suffered or past stupid mistakes I've made, or I'm worried about my future and whether or not this business venture will be successful or whether or not I'm going to end up alone and homeless again, I'm not living in the present. I'm not paying attention to what's happening around me. I'm not able to optimally address whatever task I have at hand in the now. We may think of the mind as controlling the body, but that's not how it works. Mind and body are one, and we can master both through mindfulness practice. But, as the name implies, it takes practice.

I practice mindfulness in two ways: through meditation and through chanting. Meditation is the quieting of the mind, focusing on the breath or focusing on an affirmation. Meditation brings us back to the here and now, helps us calm our mind, and gives us an opportunity to remind us that, right now, in this moment, we are safe. It may help us reduce both cortisol and adrenaline, and improve our physical and mental health. (It is important to note that not everyone has the same experience, and your mileage may vary.) Meditation is a passive mindfulness practice.

Chanting is an active practice and works well for many people for whom meditation does not work. I advocate both, but ultimately, I encourage individuals to work out for themselves what works best. There are many mantras and affirmations you can chant. As a Nichiren Buddhist, I chant Nam myoho renge kyo every day. It serves as a reminder that I have Buddha-nature within me, that I am capable of unlimited compassion, happiness, and peace, and that my determination can and will overcome whatever obstacles I encounter in this life.

Both practices give me clarity and focus, and with it, I'm less likely to become overwhelmed by stress and despair. I'm able to be more present with those around me, more aware of my situation and surroundings, and less prone to make careless mistakes. When bad things do happen, I'm generally able to remain calm and respond in the most appropriate way. If I make it a point to practice every day, my days generally go better. If I become lazy and let my daily practice slip, my life begins to spiral. I've seen this time and again in my life, so I strive every day to maintain my mindfulness practices.

In my Virtual Self-Defense course, mindfulness is the first topic I cover, before anything relating to computers or technology. We need to get the computer and the machine that is our brain and our body to work for us so we can tackle operating safely in the physical and virtual worlds. (I also cover anti-malware protection, securing and managing passwords and online accounts, assessing security risks while exploring potential partnerships online, and organizational leadership skills needed to protect yourself, your organization members, and your assets.)

Try it yourself.

Try setting aside just 5 minutes every morning. Make it the same time every morning, and set a timer, preferably with a soft chime as the alarm sound. Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, and focus on your breath. Inhale slowly and deeply, letting your abdomen expand, and exhale slowly. Repeat. Try this for one week, and notice any changes in your overall mood or outlook.

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