I began practicing awareness and mindfulness in high school, before I even knew what I was doing. Mindfulness is key to learning to control our emotions. This is extremely helpful in keeping a positive attitude and can even help prevent mental illness. Today we have another great article written by my boyfriend, Justin. After a lot of research, he’s written this great introduction for using meditation to cultivate mindfulness. Read his first post about resetting your circadian rhythm here.
An Introduction to Mindfulness
How to begin to create a mindful state through a simple meditation practice.
Mindfulness has been in the headlines a lot recently and many people are wondering what it is and how it can benefit their lives. There have been numerous books written on the subject and many academic studies as well. I’ve read quite a few of them. But not everyone wants to read through a bunch of books and research papers. So here I will give you a brief description of mindfulness and a practical way to start incorporating it into your life. If it’s something that interests you and you want to know more, I recommend checking out www.mindful.org, or picking up a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
So, then what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is an active awareness of the mind. It is the practice of maintaining a vigilant watch over the mind. And it is what allows us to become the masters of our minds. Mind is a great and precious gift and all too often taken for granted. We should be forever grateful for it. It is the one thing that is always there for us and can provide the greatest comfort, or the greatest suffering. But it takes daily work to maintain and make the best use of our mind.
There is a constant struggle within each of us between heart and mind for mastery of our actions. If we neglect the mind and do not maintain our control of it, the balance starts to tip and we become slaves to our mind and our actions do not align with our heart. This leads to a lot of avoidable suffering. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to do this mental maintenance. There are many ways to practice mindfulness but the easiest way to start is with meditation.
The first step is to build awareness; to learn to recognize thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they enter your consciousness. Learn to let them be without being drawn into them or reacting to them. It is best to do this practice at first in solitude and silence so there are minimal distractions. Ten minutes a day should be enough, though, if you can do more that is always better. Find a comfortable seated position and focus on your breath. Breath in and out deeply and rhythmically. Practice that inner awareness, becoming aware of the bodily sensations and thought patterns you are prone to and the emotions that accompany them.
Imagine yourself lying in the grass and your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as so many clouds passing by. Do not judge yourself when a negative thought arises and do not cling to the positive. Learn to be a passive observer. Let the clouds float on by, merely becoming aware of them and letting them pass. After some time, you may begin to recognize certain feelings and thoughts very quickly. Do not seek to escape or get drawn into narrative thought (which is when you start talking in your mind, daydreaming, spinning scenarios, etc.) but rather embrace the active awareness. Try to calm your mind. Try to prolong the time between when one thought leaves your mind and another enters. Allow your thoughts and breathing to slow down.
When you find yourself drawn into narrative thought, or negative self-talk or emotions, gently guide your mind back to your breath and to that place of passive observation. Do not judge yourself for having strayed, simply return to your breath. The process of guiding your mind is where the greatest benefits come from. So you should be thankful for every time you find that your mind has wandered and you catch yourself and guide it back to a center. Each time you do that, your mind is getting stronger as is your control over it.
You will eventually be able to guide yourself out of almost any mental pit that comes across your path. You can even change the way you react to traumatic memories or difficult situations. Think of this as exercising your brain. In this way, you can eventually build the strength to confront any situation with confidence.
This practice will begin to rewire your brain and create connections that you will put to great use later. One study showed that after just eight weeks of mindfulness training there were significant positive changes in brain activity and volume, specifically in areas of the brain known to be involved in processing emotion. This leads scientists to believe that mindfulness practice helps you regulate emotion, a rather valuable result for a simple and easy practice.
Remember that this is a journey and have faith in yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t feel immediate “results” this practice works its way through your subconscious to your conscious mind. Anytime you meditate you create impressions upon your subconscious mind and have already received the benefits but, eventually, you will feel conscious results.
Thanks for reading! If you’re reading to get serious about your own meditation practice, I highly recommend using one of these