There has been much written lately about the Buddhist practice of “mindfulness”. Mindfulness essentially means that while going about your day, you are also calmly observing your reactions to what is going on. You observe yourself objectively as if you were another person. For example, while being mindful you may observe, “Now I’m getting stressed”, “Now I am happy”, “Now I am worrying”, or “Now I’m feeling hungry”.
The observing, watchful self is a neutral friend, whose goal is to keep you centered and grounded, calmly alert and ready to cope with almost any experience without the usual stress and anxiety. It is going to that place within where silence, peace, and tranquility can be found.
The practice of daily meditation makes it easier to stay mindful during the day. Here is a brief instruction on how to build meditation into your daily life:
- Pick a quiet place to sit which is virtually free of distractions, perhaps facing a blank piece of wall. Sit up straight and keep a notebook handy to write down those things that pass through your mind: things like “Remember to buy milk” or “Pick up the kids at 4 pm”. This will allow you to temporarily clear your mind of such responsibilities. Your goal is to reach a place of calm awareness but this will not be easy to achieve at first.
- Initially your plan is to just sit there for at least five to ten minutes – twice a day. Your mind will do the same thing it always does, which is to think, feel, and ruminate. Initially the only difference between meditating and the rest of your life is that you are sitting calmly doing nothing. Your brain will be as busy as ever. In the beginning, just sit there and do the time.
- Pick regular times to practice. That way your system will get used to always having the meditation sessions the same time every day and you will gradually go deeper each time. First thing in the morning and last thing at night or possibly after work can be good times. As you get more experienced, you can go to a deeper, calmer place in a shorter amount of time.
- Some like to chant a word as it is believed that this will help you to achieve a stable peace quicker. It might help replace other thoughts that intrude on the process. Words like Om, Calm, Home, or Shalom may be helpful.
With more practice, and as you sit longer and go deeper, gradually your worries and thoughts become less important and urgent. You still have them but they are more like clouds on the horizon. Your mind relaxes because it accepts that this is time off. You begin to connect more deeply and fully with yourself and over time those truly important matters are more likely to make themselves heard. So meditating is partly a way of getting in touch with yourself and reconnecting with priorities.
The mind doesn’t rest well normally as it is constantly active, even during dream sleep. Being able to sit still for even a few minutes twice per day is a gift of emptiness. This is a valuable time for refreshing the mind and soul. Your often tired and overfilled mind will be grateful for the chance to take time off. The quietude tells your brain you are safe from predators. The heart relaxes, blood pressure decreases, and wastes are removed from the blood stream. Blood lactate, a chemical associated with anxiety, drops within 10 minutes of starting to meditate
When an unmindful person gets caught up in their anger, he or she is held captive by that anger and has no control over it. There is no ability to step back and slow down and the emotion takes over. The anger is likely to increase. If a mindful person has an anger attack, he or she feels the same anger, but is all the time watching and observing the rage so as to be able to slow it down, redirect it, soothe it, and instruct it to calm down and focus on coping effectively. The ideal is to be centered, calmly alert, and internally aware of what is going on from a relaxed place.
The benefits of mindful meditation will only come if you put in the time and the practice. Rather than being burdensome, meditation becomes a pleasant, restful, and re-energizing time in your day.