Mindfulness allows each of us to tap into a higher level of consciousness that is always in the background of our lives. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." Anyone can practice of mindfulness. Although always available to us, our natural presence is frequently obfuscated by habits of the mind which include rumination (thinking about the past), perseveration (worrying about the future), analysis, judgment, and resistance to inner and outer experience. Mindfulness allows us to connect to our "observing self" instead of remaining identified with "the thinking self." Thought often dominates our moment-to-moment experience, blocking us from the peace and vitality we desire. People often ask, "what is spirituality?" There are numerous definitions but the definition that I find most useful is spirituality as the cultivation of inner balance, wisdom, and presence. Spirituality offers a broader perspective on our lives, a deeper knowing of truth, and respite from the focus on goal achievement and "doing" that dominates much of our society. For some, spirituality involves letting go of self-will through trusting in a higher power to guide, protect, and inspire us.
I often utilize and apply principles from the following leaders in the field of mindfulness and spirituality:
Tara Brach: www.tarabrach.com
Eckhart Tolle: https://www.eckharttolle.com/
Sydney Banks: http://www.sydneybanks.org/
Dr. Wayne Dyer: http://www.drwaynedyer.com/
Kristin Neff: http://www.self-compassion.org...
Jon Kabat-Zinn: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/
Charlotte Center for Mindfulness Newsletter Article – Spring 2017
Be mindful of HOW mindfulness works in your life
By Aaron Less
Practicing mindfulness has a profound impact on the lives of those who practice. Over one thousand research studies have established the benefits of this practice for a wide range of mental and physical health difficulties. And, we now know that meaningful changes in brain function and structure underlie many of these benefits.
While this is fascinating, what compels me the most is exploring my own experience of how this practice enhances my sense of wellbeing, compassion, clarity, and focus. This is where the “rubber meets the road” for me. In this sense, we are all the scientists of our own lives. And, as we experiment with new ways of approaching our present moment experience, we watch very closely to see what happens. This is how we deepen and expand our practice.
One of the most interesting areas to explore in my mindfulness practice, is to become increasingly aware of how mindfulness works to lessen stress. This isn’t an intellectual or theoretical exercise, but an exploration of my direct experience. Reflecting on the “how” helps me to remember to apply mindfulness more often throughout my days through what we call “informal” practice. It also inspires my formal meditation practice. Here are five “hows” of mindfulness that I have found most helpful in bringing greater freedom and wellbeing to my life.
Catching stress in the early subtle stages. The more aware we become of our moment-to-moment physical and emotional state of being, the more easily we recognize the initial indications of stress reactivity. If we catch these signs early enough, we can re-center in the present moment and respond effectively to the stress reaction before it passes a tipping point. An important reminder here is to allow whatever you notice to be there. We’re not suppressing the stress reaction, but noticing it and allowing it. When we do this, it often lessens or subsides entirely.
Noticing assumptions and beliefs, and seeing that they are not reality. When we are not fully aware, habitual thoughts tend to dominate our minds. These unconscious thoughts are often laced with fear, such as thoughts about what might go wrong, regrets about the past, or judgments against ourselves and others. Mindfulness helps us to be awake enough to notice the existence of these thoughts and assumptions, as well as their impact on our emotional and physical state. Over time, we gain insight into these patterns and learn to distinguish them from reality. This helps us return to the present moment and feel greater ease and wellbeing.
Allowing the stress reaction to resolve. The duration of the stress reaction depends on a number of factors, including the magnitude of the triggering event, our past conditioning, and our mental activity. If we’re ruminating about a stressful event, or projecting into the future with fearful thoughts, it will last much longer. With mindfulness, we learn to step out of the mind’s stories, come back to the present moment, and observe the sensations and emotions of stress with kindness and patience. This allows us to return to equilibrium much sooner.
Increasing self-care and self-compassion. Over the course of our lives, many of us learn to cope with difficulty by disconnecting from our emotions. While this might work in the short-term, we pay a big price in the long-term by having less access to the important information and guidance of our emotions. Through mindfulness, we become reacquainted with our feelings and practice turning toward our experience with kindness and compassion. Over time, this helps us take better care of ourselves. We are more inclined to eat foods that nourish us, to engage in physical activity that supports health and vitality, and to make skillful decisions about how we spend our time and who we spend it with.
Creating space around our pain and suffering. When we are “in the grip” of difficult emotions, we lose ourselves in the pain and our identity becomes intertwined with suffering. With mindfulness, we practice stepping into a broader perspective by observing our emotions. In time, we are able to make a subtle but profound shift from “my pain” or “my sadness” to “the pain” or “the sadness.” As we step back into this perspective of compassionate witnessing, our pain and suffering is now held in a much broader space of awareness. Just as a teaspoon of salt has much less impact when poured into a lake than into a cup of water, difficult emotions and sensations don’t dominate our experience as much when we are in a more mindful and spacious state of being.
As you continue in your formal and informal mindfulness practice, I encourage you to explore “how” mindfulness makes a difference in your day-to-day experience. In addition to paying attention to these five, your own wisdom will reveal many more!