I’ve written about mindfulness before. Everyone is talking about mindfulness. It is the cultural buzzword at the moment. All those coloring books abounding in bookstores and even garage sales? They’re taken from the ancient tradition of the meditation Mandala practiced by Buddhist monks:
It sounds like a pretty concept. Mindfulness. It’s even a pretty sounding word. Say it. Miiiiiiindfulness. Why is it emerging into Western culture with such force? Well, this is why:
According to Mark Williams and Danny Penman, “Numerous psychological studies have shown that regular meditators are happier and more contented than average. These are not just important results in themselves but have huge medical significance, as such positive emotions are linked to a longer and healthier life.” (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
Williams and Penman state with evidence:
- “Anxiety, depression and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation. Memory also improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase.
- Regular meditators enjoy better and more fulfilling relationships.
Studies worldwide have found that meditation reduces the key indicators of chronic stress, including hypertension.
- Meditation has also been found to be effective in reducing the impact of serious conditions, such as chronic pain and cancer, and can even help to relieve drug and alcohol dependence.
- Studies have now shown that meditation bolsters the immune system and thus helps to fight off colds, flu and other diseases.” (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
Here is what mindfulness meditation is not:
- Meditation is not a religion. Mindfulness is simply a method of mental training. Many people who practice meditation are themselves religious, but then again, many atheists and agnostics are avid meditators too.
- You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor (like the pictures you may have seen in magazines or on TV), but you can if you want to. Most people who come to our classes sit on chairs to meditate, but you can also practice bringing mindful awareness to whatever you are doing on planes, trains, or while walking to work. You can meditate more or less anywhere.
- Mindfulness practice does not take a lot of time, although some patience and persistence are required. Many people soon find that meditation liberates them from the pressures of time, so they have more of it to spend on other things.
- Meditation is not complicated. Nor is it about “success” or “failure.” Even when meditation feels difficult, you’ll have learned something valuable about the workings of the mind and thus will have benefited psychologically
- It will not deaden your mind or prevent you from striving toward important career or lifestyle goals; nor will it trick you into falsely adopting a Pollyanna attitude to life. Meditation is not about accepting the unacceptable. It is about seeing the world with greater clarity so that you can take wiser and more considered action to change those things that need to be changed. Meditation helps cultivate a deep and compassionate awareness that allows you to assess your goals and find the optimum path towards realizing your deepest values.” ( Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
Now that we’ve established that, what is it then that we are all about? Well, honestly, I’d like to be happy. This is what I am building. A happy life. Sure, we can wax philosophical until the end of the age about the true nature of happiness. Is it external to us? Is it an internal state? Is it a mere evanescent phenomenon and, therefore, a wasteful pursuit that we should abandon altogether in place of contentment? For the sake of the current discussion, I am leaving that discussion aside because it distracts us from what I really want to discuss. Mindfulness. And how we sabotage our own attempts to progress in life. How exactly do we sabotage ourselves? What are we doing wrong when we are trying so hard?
Williams and Penn explain:
“Our moods naturally wax and wane. It’s the way we’re meant to be. But certain patterns of thinking can turn a short-term dip in vitality or emotional well-being into longer periods of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion. A brief moment of sadness, anger or anxiety can end up tipping you into a “bad mood” that colors a whole day or far, far longer. Recent scientific discoveries have shown how these normal emotional fluxes can lead to long-term unhappiness, acute anxiety and even depression. But, more importantly, these discoveries have also revealed the path to becoming a happier and more “centered” person, by showing that:
- when you start to feel a little sad, anxious or irritable, it’s not the mood that does the damage but how you react to it.
- the effort of trying to free yourself from a bad mood or bout of unhappiness—of working out why you’re unhappy and what you can do about it—often makes things worse. It’s like being trapped in quicksand—the more you struggle to be free, the deeper you sink.
As soon as we understand how the mind works, it becomes obvious why we all suffer from bouts of unhappiness, stress and irritability from time to time. When you begin to feel a little unhappy, it’s natural to try and think your way out of the problem of being unhappy. You try to establish what is making you unhappy and then find a solution. In the process, you can easily dredge up past regrets and conjure up future worries. This further lowers your mood. It doesn’t take long before you start to feel bad for failing to discover a way of cheering yourself up. The “inner critic,” which lives inside us all, begins to whisper that it’s your fault, that you should try harder, whatever the cost. You soon start to feel separated from the deepest and wisest parts of yourself. You get lost in a seemingly endless cycle of recrimination and self-judgment; finding yourself at fault for not meeting your ideals, for not being the person you wish you could be.” (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
Does this sound familiar to you? I see myself in this. So, what will a mindfulness meditation program actually do then?
“Mindfulness…encourages you to break some of the unconscious habits of thinking and behaving that stop you from living life to the full. Many judgmental and self-critical thoughts arise out of habitual ways of thinking and acting. By breaking with some of your daily routines, you’ll progressively dissolve some of these negative thinking patterns and become more mindful and aware. You may be astonished by how much more happiness and joy are attainable with even tiny changes to the way you live your life.
Habit breaking is straightforward. It’s as simple as not sitting in the same chair at meetings, switching off the television for a while or taking a different route to work. You may also be asked to plant some seeds and watch them grow, or perhaps look after a friend’s pet for a few days or go and watch a film at your local cinema. Such simple things—acting together with a short meditation each day—really can make your life more joyous and fulfilled.” (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
It is with the spirit of moving forward and truly building something better that I recommend Williams and Penman’s 8-week mindfulness plan. Get this book. Get the audiobook. Do the exercises. Their book is full of scientific evidence that will knock your socks off. You will get to know yourself and your brain better. You will understand why you do what you do and experience self-acceptance along the way rather than self-judgment. It will come as a huge relief rather than another reason to feel inadequate. It is in no way hard, and it will introduce you to a better way of thinking, doing, and being. I will be writing posts as I follow the plan for the next eight weeks, but wouldn’t it be fun to do it together? Send me your stories! I’ll post them!