What’s so great about Mindfulness?
There’s a phrase I like from academia – ‘there’s nothing so practical as a good theory’. And the thing is, Mindfulness is so practical. It’s not some airy fairy esoteric thing. It’s an approach to life that makes sense, because it’s based on careful study, going back many many centuries, of how the mind works. And these understandings equate to ‘news we can use’. Perhaps, given that it is such ancient wisdom it’s stretching it a bit to call it ‘news’. However there is a great deal of news value in Mindfulness in that the more that neuroscientists study it, the more they announce new discoveries about how it works.
So it’s based on a very old wisdom tradition, but has brand new science continuing to explore it, and supporting it’s value.
Mindfulness Meditation – the gym for the mind
Steadying the mind and improving concentration
Doing regular Mindfulness meditation is like taking our minds to the mind-gym. We learn to steady our minds and develop our ‘concentration muscle’. And that has immense practical benefits in our everyday lives.
Keeping things in proportion
We also learn to observe our thoughts and feelings – to really ‘get’ that a thought is just a thought and a feeling is just a feeling. When we are caught in particular thought tracks, we can fall into the mistake of assuming that the thought is telling us the ‘whole truth’, but more often than not it is just a passing idea often very much influenced by the emotion we are feeling at the time. And when we look at that thought ‘in the clear light of day’ (when we become ‘unhooked’ from the thought) we can see it for what it is. Think of those times where you have a thought like ‘My manager is going to be so angry with me for the mistake I’ve just made – how am I going to cope?’, but when we unhook from the thought we can get the situation into perspective, and know that it is not the end of the world. Similarly with feelings – when we are caught in anger with our partner, we can get caught in believing that he/she is mean, unkind, inconsiderate etc. and completely forget the many kind and considerate things they do for us. When we unhook from the feeling, whether it be anger, hurt, disappoint or some other feeling, we are able to see things in proportion again.
So getting better at recognising and unhooking from unhelpful thoughts and feelings is immensely helpful and can save us a lot of stress, frustration, irritation and shame.
Getting better at being in the present moment
During Mindfulness meditation we focus on a single ‘object of attention’, such as the sensation of breathing. Feeling sensations is something we can only do when we are in the present moment, and not in our heads analysing or thinking. Mindfulness meditation involves bringing our attention back to the sensations of breathing each time we notice that we get caught up in thoughts. So, over and over again, during a single meditation session we practice (and so get better at) coming back to the present moment.
And the better we are at being in the present moment, the more we get to enjoy the pleasurable moments of our lives. Also, the better we are at being in the present moment with the people we care about, the more it will enhance the quality of our relationships and the more we will enjoy them.
Becoming more accepting and compassionate of our selves
Through Mindfulness meditation we also practice being non-judgmental and compassionate with ourselves and our inner experiences. We practice accepting that our minds wander off and that we need to keep bringing them back to the sensations of breathing. We accept that thoughts and feelings turn up uninvited and that this is just part of the human condition. We practice ‘starting afresh’ in a self-forgiving kind of way every time we notice our mind has wandered off, and we bring it back to the sensations of breathing.
So, just imagine how useful it would be to be doing a daily workout whereby you are gently improving the steadiness of your mind, your concentration, your ability to get things back into perspective, your ability to spend more time in the present moment, and your ability to be less harsh on yourself and less judgmental.
But … If meditation’s not your thing, how about Everyday Mindfulness Practices?
The principles behind Mindfulness can either be practiced in the form of regular meditation, or by engaging in what I call ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices. For example, we can make a point of noticing when our mind gets caught up in unhelpful thoughts or over-analysing in the course of our everyday life, and choose to bring our attention back to the present moment.
Likewise, we can notice each time we are harsh and judgmental towards our selves or others, and consciously choose to be more accepting.
We can develop the ability to be more aware, more in the present moment, more accepting , less judgmental and more compassionate through a number of ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices.
The Combo package
Of course, practicing both Mindfulness meditation and doing ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices will help us to develop these abilities more quickly. Just as going to the gym and walking to work will get you fitter than just doing one or the other.
Is it worth the effort?
Increasing numbers of people will answer with a whole-hearted ‘yes’. It seems that Mindfulness was not just ‘flavour of the month’ in the noughties, but continues to grow in popularity. Not surprising, given the many benefits it offers.
If you are interested in learning Mindfulness check out my ‘Mindfulness for Everyday Life’ 6-week on-line course or any local workshops on Mindfulness that I am offering, on my home page: www.thechangeacademy.co.nz