You may have read my previous blog post on mindfulness in which I shared my resolve to maintain a daily meditation practice. A few months on, I am still practicing and am through this I find that mindfulness is becoming ever present in my day to day life and not limited to my practice periods.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be described as awareness of the present moment; an awareness of what is actually happening right now; of purposefully directing our attention to our experience of the present moment, without passing judgement.
When we begin a meditation practice and start paying attention our thoughts, we soon realise that our thoughts are most often in the past or the future. This may be something that the newcomer to meditation has never actually been aware of. At first this can seem rather daunting, frustrating or maybe even frightening. It may be the reason that we give up meditation, we feel that we simply can’t do it. I will revisit this subject later.
We cannot directly experience the past or the future, thoughts of the past are memories and thoughts of the future are mere fantasies. One can only truly experience what is happening right now. So how much of our lives are actually spent in direct awareness of the here and now? We all perform tasks and go through our day of working, eating, doing the chores, exercising, socialising and so on, but where is our mind during all of this? Maybe we just don’t know!
How often have we taken a car or bus journey and suddenly realise we have no memory of a part of that journey? This is due to our minds being elsewhere at that time. Left unattended the mind will wander and drift, this is what minds do best. The wandering mind gives way to an array of thoughts which may include despair, fear, impatience, self-pity, anger, craving etc. These thoughts then imprint themselves in our bodies as emotions and give rise to suffering. The unattended mind will react in situations we are faced with, based on our past experiences or our concerns of the future and it may feel as if we have no control over how we react. Past habits and behavioural patterns repeat themselves and it may seem as though this is ‘what is’ or ‘who we are’, we have no control.
Through sitting in meditation, it becomes clear to us that thoughts and emotions are not permanent, they come and then they fade away. There is a part of us that can watch and become the observer, rather than become the thought or emotion. We begin to create some space in which to see things clearly, just as they are and this allows us to respond to situations in a way that is more considered.
Sure, we all still have thoughts and emotions, we are human. Mindfulness is not about stopping our thoughts or suppressing our feelings as they arise. It is about being aware of them so we can make choices about how we react or behave. The same difficulties or joys in life will come along, but we can observe them in a non-judgemental way. With regular meditation practice, one will begin to find some inner peace and contentment despite what our life situation is. We ‘wake up’ and begin to find joy in simple things, we notice more. Memory will improve and we may become more creative, no longer bound by our limiting self-beliefs.
Mindfulness is for everyone. We do not have to consider ourselves as spiritual. No special equipment is needed. All that is needed is a willingness to practice meditation regularly and an open, receptive attitude that has no expectations. So are you curious to take the first step or perhaps you already have a practice and need some guidance? Here is a great website with some free guided meditation downloads. Let me know how you get on.
I am teaching mindfulness as part of my Thursday Hatha Yoga & Meditation class. Full details on the classes page. Do join us!