There have been a lot of news articles recently reporting on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. I’ve also noticed a trend in brand marketing to associate products with a conscious lifestyle by using the word mindful. There are Mindful Mints (“meditation in a mint”), a Mindful Moon iPhone app (“positive reminders to live brighter”), and even “Mindful Meats” (a meat company that brings local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised meats to market). Since I recently gave a short talk on the benefits of mindfulness, introducing a group of about 25 men and women to mindfulness meditation (all, but 3 or 4, were new to the practice), and, because “Be Mindful” is an Essential Balance Principle, I want to share with you, dear reader, on this important topic, too.
Among its many benefits, studies have found that mindfulness meditation
1. Reduces stress
2. Enhances focus
3. Stops excessive thinking
4. Calms the emotions
5. Increases self-awareness
6. Increases empathy
7. Improves the brain* (*Really, it does! Harvard Medical School’s, Harvard Health Publications reports that a study published in the May 2011 issue of Neuroimage found that one effect of mindfulness practice is increased brain connectivity; in another study, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, MRI results showed that gray matter increased in regions of the brain governing memory, self-awareness and compassion and decreased in the amygdala—the part of the brain associated with fear and stress.)
Mindfulness meditation cultivates mindfulness, which is the “state of being fully present without habitual reactions.” (Sharon Salzberg) Mindfulness involves a heightened awareness of what is happening right now and being with what is here now. It is characterized by increased awareness and acceptance of the present moment.
Let’s look more closely at what this means, starting with “increased awareness of the present moment.” The mind is easily distracted and has a tendency to wander away from the present moment. We even speak of someone as being “lost in thought.” The world around us certainly offers enough distractions that we may avoid any meaningful encounter with the self, remaining unconscious of what is going on inside of us. Through mindfulness, we return home to the self tuning into the breath and sensations in the body; noticing emotions or thoughts as they arise; and listening to sounds in the environment, and the like. Thus, practicing mindfulness helps develop a more balanced and complete awareness.
Now, let’s consider “acceptance of the present moment.” The mind has a tendency to analyze, judge, categorize, and criticize. It can be almost automatic to view experience as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, something we like or don’t like, want or want to avoid. Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.
This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice.
You keep coming back to the immediacy of your experience,
and then when the thoughts start coming up, thoughts like, bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk, you let those thoughts go,
and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience. – Pema Chodron
You can think of mindfulness as showing up for life (100% fully, totally) with a good attitude. That’s an empowering approach to life, isn’t it? Yet, that is only part of it. Mindfulness allows us to know ourselves as we really are. And that’s priceless