WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
In any given moment, we are either practicing mindfulness
or, de facto, we are practicing mindlessness.
When framed this way, we might want to take more responsibility
for how we meet the world, inwardly, and outwardly
in any and every moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn (Coming to Our Senses, 2005)
When you hear the word ‘mindfulness,’ does it sound odd, flaky, or pretentious? It’s certainly a word that is bandied around quite a bit these days, but what does it actually mean?
You could say that mindfulness is really in essence about relationships, or perhaps a better word would be ‘relationality’: relationality with self, relationality with others, relationality with the world in a way that might lend itself to seeing others and ourselves more freshly. One lovely aspect of mindfulness is that it offers us a respite from the doing aspect of our lives, which no doubt has some importance, but the practice of mindfulness enables us to settle into the domain of just being – much like the popular Beatles tune suggests — Let It Be. We are called human beings after all, so perhaps a little attention to that aspect of our lives could prove beneficial.
Over time, with the practice of mindfulness, we begin to slowly recognize and understand that we can actually free ourselves from some of the more habitual ways we see ourselves; the way we conceptualize what is possible and what is not. It offers us a type of clear seeing from what might have been an otherwise clouded interpretation of the world around us. One of the more interesting aspects of mindfulness is that it illuminates our habitual patterns that could perhaps be limiting our understanding or creativity in any given situation or difficult communication. As more understanding comes to light and multiple perspectives become apparent, mindfulness accords us a possibility to pause, thereby offering an opportunity to make more wise and skillful choices throughout our day. A great deal of personal freedom can be gained from that.
Mindfulness comes from a form of meditation that has deep Eastern roots. Yet its qualities exist in virtually all contemporary and ancient cultures and religions in that it is rooted in a universal pursuit of reflection. Technically, the meaning is derived from an ancient language, Pali (a middle Indo-Aryan liturgical language native to the Indian subcontinent). The translation, in the most general sense, means to remember or to remember to look inward, but its meaning goes far beyond our notion of memory. This kind of memory points to reminding us of what we might have forgotten over time. A mindful mind is awake to know what is skillful and what is not, what is inferior and what is refined, what is beneficial and what is harmful. It is also about paying exquisite attention moment to moment in a particular way, without judgment or personal evaluations about what is. This kind of awakened life is key to living a life of beauty, less pain and suffering no matter what our circumstances.
HOW DO WE ACTUALLY INTEGRATE MINDFULNESS INTO OUR LIVES?
It starts with some simple skills and tools acquired through two separate practices, one being formal practice where we intentionally sit, lie down, or walk and direct focused attention to sensations noticed with the breath entering and leaving the body, or directly feeling sensations found in the body as a whole. As another mundane object of attention, you could also pay attention to the quality of sounds, and lastly, when you are ready and able, observing and letting go of thoughts or emotions that enter and pass through the mind. We offer attention to observe the condition of the body and the mind without changing anything. Instead of avoiding or pushing anything away, we simply stay as best we can with what is there with a kind of curiosity, interest and some kindness because it is there anyway. Secondly, are day-to-day informal mindfulness practices that come into play as we engage in working, eating, speaking and listening — to be fully present as best we can.
We call it a practice because it’s like any training — much like you would build muscles at the gym with daily consistency. The more we can develop the muscle of mindfulness in our daily routines, the more we have the opportunity to pause in the midst of challenges that might befall us. The body and mind eventually coordinate as it becomes apparent that there is a direct connection between the two. An innate awareness is developed over time as we begin to realize we actually have more choice about our behaviour or about how and what we choose to think. Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, once remarked:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. — Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” 1946
Mindful awareness plays a big part in how we ride out the stressors in life. We can’t remove stressors in our lives, but we can certainly choose how we might respond and how quickly we collect ourselves after difficult circumstances. Perhaps over time, the stressor might even have a gentler impact or no impact at all. In the end, greater resiliency is possible with regular mindfulness practice. It offers a more easeful existence to negotiate better the pleasant as well as the unpleasant moments alike.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
Meditation practice requires much training to get it right.
There is no right way, only what is. Mindfulness is not trying to get to a certain outcome. There’s nowhere to go. There is nothing to get because you are already whole, already perfectly complete. Mindfulness embraces the domain of being, rather than doing.
To meditate, you have to turn off your thoughts and make your mind blank or insist on positive thoughts.
We cannot turn off thoughts. That would be impossible, but we can realize over time that our thoughts are not us. The practice teaches how to be with all thoughts and emotions, whether uncomfortable or not, with a light touch and not forcing anything — letting things be as they are. Everything that arises is simply your teacher.
To meditate, you have to be good at focusing attention. I have to be a serene person.
In mindfulness, we are not trying to achieve any particular state. We work with whatever is present, whether it’s restlessness, agitation, shame, fear, desire, cravings — whatever is here because it is here. Each breath, each moment is a chance to begin anew.
There is one specific state of meditation, and the aim is to get into that state.
There is no falling into a trance. Mindfulness is not going for an ideal state. It asks only to notice and observe. Whatever bubbles up is to be simply and gently held in awareness.
It will eliminate sadness or rough patches in my life.
Mindfulness is not meant to erase all the challenges in your life, but it will help you to respond better and manage all that falls in your path.
Mindfulness is for putting me to sleep.
It’s not surprising that people fall asleep, considering you are invited to lie down sometimes, but the invitation with mindfulness is really to fall awake!
I will have to forsake my faith.
The study of mindfulness will only enhance whatever religion you hold dear. It is also meant to complement all psychological or physical treatments that are already in place.
SOME PROVEN BENEFITS OF PRACTICING MINDFULNESS
- Increased ability to relax
- Decrease in pain and increase in ability to cope with chronic pain
- Reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Improved overall health, including an enhanced immune system
- More energy and enthusiasm for life
- More self-confidence
- Resilience in the face of health and life challenges
- A new sense of centredness
- Greater sense of compassion for self and others
The miracle of mindfulness is that it reconnects us to the inherent richness of life inwardly and outwardly, a richness of embodied wakefulness and possibilities that can only be found and inhabited in this timeless moment we call now. Increasing mindfulness on a daily basis can be a beneficial means to improve daily physical and psychological wellbeing.
Karen Waddell is a long-time member of ACTRA performing in film, TV and voice-overs for over 30 years, as well as a Qualified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher trained at the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at @ UMASS Medical School and the Mindfulness Centre at Brown University in Providence, RI. She offers ongoing eight-week MBSR courses and mindfulness workshops, where she teaches how to apply the principles and practices of mindfulness to mediate stress. MBSR offers practical, scientifically supported teachings to reduce stress, facilitate relaxation, and promote physical health and emotional wellbeing. https://karenwaddell.wixsite.com/website