Meditation creates mindfulness, so now you might be asking what is mindfulness? The dictionary defines Mindfulness as; a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. By my definition it is a gentle effort to be continuously present with experience in every moment. Psychology today defines Mindfulness as; a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. Probably the best description for me of Mindfulness is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and I quote; “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, it’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed. To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits.
But we don’t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness.
First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes (me included) talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware i’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.
This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts, including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. Mostly these thoughts are about the past or future. The past no longer exists. The future is just a fantasy until it happens. The one moment we actually can experience — the present moment — is the one we seem most to avoid.
So in mindfulness we’re concerned with noticing what’s going on right now. That doesn’t mean we can no longer think about the past or future, but when we do so we do so mindfully, so that we’re aware that right now we’re thinking about the past or future.
In meditation, we are concerned with what’s arising in the present moment. When thoughts about the past or future take us away from our present moment experience and we “space out” we try to notice this and just come back to now.
By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards the “anchor” or our present moment experience, we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
Mindfulness is an emotionally non-reactive state. We don’t judge that this experience is good and that one is bad, or if we do make those judgments – we simply notice them and let go of them. We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist. Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.
I highly recommend daily meditation as a means to be more at peace within yourself as so aptly stated by St Francis de Sales, “Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”
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