Mindfulness Meditation is the practice of training your thoughts to persist in the present moment, in the here and now, heightening your awareness of the world around you and your interaction within that world.
By increasing your mindfulness of the present moment and awareness of your own present physical, emotional and mental state, the resulting self-discovery and self-development that you will experience will lead you on a pathway to increased peace and contentment. Your ability to experience a state of relaxation will provide much needed relief from the stresses brought on by physical or emotional pain, worry, illness, or disability you may have been experiencing. Regaining control of your mind and your health becomes possible.
Mindfulness Meditation is not a replacement for medical treatment, but can increase the effectiveness of your physical, emotional and mental fitness. The effectiveness of Mindfulness in your life will be directly proportional to the amount of effort you put into practicing becoming aware of the present moment as it unfolds in you and around you. A little effort will be rewarded by huge gains in peace of mind, relaxation, and contentment amidst any of life’s storms.
Merely learning what Mindfulness Meditation or Mindful Awareness is will not bring about the transformations that are desired; doing the work of focusing in on the present moment is what will deliver you from your prior mindset of pain, worry, stress, discontentment and negativity.
While the work will not require large amounts of time, it will be one of the hardest things you have likely ever done, which may seem odd to you. After all, how hard can sustained focus on the present moment be? We all have the capacity to set our focus on the here and now. It’s just a decision, right?
I invite you to read on, and to take seriously the notion of learning from some of the foremost leaders in the field of Stress Reduction, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., pioneer of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Clinic, who developed an incredible program of Mindfulness Meditation that has helped literally thousands of people overcome the stress and pain associated with chronic illness, terminal disease, relational problems, mental and physical disabilities, financial pressures, and the like. While not all of the material will come from his work, I would highly recommend that you use his materials as a springboard to your own journey into stress reduction and control of your physical and mental well-being.
Jon frequently refers to the concept of “cultivating mindfulness,” in order to take the practice from being an occasional mind task performed sporadically, to being a daily, prevailing mindset that nourishes our minds and bodies and delivers us from the ravages of a mind in turmoil. As Jon says in his book Full Catastrophe Living:
Mindfulness is basically just a particular way of paying attention. It is a way of looking deeply into oneself in the spirit of self-inquiry and self-understanding. For this reason it can be learned and practiced, as we don in the stress clinic, without appealing to Oriental culture or Buddhist authority to enrich it or authenticate it. Mindfulness stands on its won as a powerful vehicle for self-understanding and healing. In fact one of its major strengths is that it is not dependent on any belief system or ideology, so that its benefits are therefore accessible for anyone to test for himself or herself.” 1
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise
(This is taken from my January 2010 article, Every Winter do you feel S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder)?)
Start by selecting something that exists right now, in the present. I often select my breath, because breathing is something that I do, moment by moment, every second of every day. It’s always there as my companion, on which to focus. Alternatively, you may choose to focus on things in nature if you are out on a walk. Or if you are inside, so you could decide to focus on the colours in the room. Whatever it is, it needs to be before you in the present moment, so you can focus in on it. As you zero in on it, you will immediately notice your focus wanting to lift off and take flight onto something else. This is natural, and a sign that you are normal.
As soon as you notice that your thoughts have left your chosen point of focus, gently and lovingly bring your thoughts back again. Explore the item of your focus (your breath, or the smells or sounds of nature, or the colours in the room….). Each time your thoughts escape, lovingly bring them back, without self-reproach for having allowed them to wander. There is no room for disdain, self-reproach, or self-loathing. In this place called the present, there is only acceptance. Accept what is. Love what is. Embrace what is. Feel the breath go in and out. Observe the smells. Whatever your object of focus is, simply allow it to be, with no judgments.
If you can only do this for 2 minutes, fine. If you can then return and do this for 5 minutes, great. If you can go on to 10 minutes or longer, all the better, but accept whatever it turns out to be. Explore beyond your breath as time passes. Focus gradually on each aspect of your body, from your head to your toes, gently bringing back your focus to your body every time it wants to float off. Or gradually focus on different aspects of nature you see and hear and smell and feel, if you are out walking.
For whatever length of time you have done this, you have just successfully trained your thoughts. This is the new platform from which future successes will springboard. The old is gone, the new has come. The new is always there, available to you, every time you bring your focus back to that which is in the present, in loving embrace of it.
Moreover, you have just provided much needed relief from the torment where your thoughts would have otherwise spent their time: the past, or the future. The past has some value when we glance at it for cues on how to improve things for the future. But sadly, during depression, the past becomes a hitching post for perpetual lashings and cruelty by none other than ourselves. The past is meant to be a lamp post to guide us toward a wise and better future, and nothing more.
During Mindfulness Meditation, your thoughts are also prevented from dwelling in the future, that place where there is the anticipation of dreaded events that depression tries to serve up to you. Anxiety plays richly on minds which linger in the future. But when meditating on those things that are in the present, thoughts are existing in the beauty of present reality. The future is not real; it has not yet happened, and any amount of rehearsing all the various combinations of bad outcomes for our future, will not bring about healthy emotions. All it will serve to do is put us in deep bondage, for the sake of things that might not even occur!
Alas, the only answer, the only relief, lies in focusing in on the present. It is life-giving, mobilizing, and uplifting. Only by focusing on the present, can a sound, healthy perspective be achieved that will allow for effective management of the past, and wise planning for the future.
If you are interested in experiencing more of the freedom that comes from reducing stress through Mindfulness Meditation, visit Jon Kabat-Zinn, and look into many of his wonderful resources developed through the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Clinic.