Sunday, 16 October 2011

why mindfulness?

Awareness of the present moment is what mindfulness really comes down to. Nothing more. It's in stark contrast to our brain's usual daily diet of dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Focusing on the now is like hacking through the wild thicket in order to mark out an orderly garden and clear away what's unnecessary or unmanageable. Mindfulness is designed to help you do this without self-conscious effort. Here's the basic premise of a mindfulness exercise in meditation.

  • Choose a good place - Go for somewhere secluded at a time when you're unlikely to be disturbed. Don't worry about selecting a place outdoors. The sounds of cars, insects etc are not meant to be completely avoided for successful meditation, they're just meant to be accepted without pushing against them or allowing them to distract you. Read The Body in Meditation for more information on this.
  • Get Comfortable - Some meditation guides suggest not lying down in case you unintentionally fall asleep. My advice, as someone who suffers from a back and neck complaint, is to make sure you feel energised and committed to the meditation before starting and lie in a comfortable position but not covered with a blanket. It doesn't seem productive to tell everyone as a rule that lying down is bad practice, since some people are literally only comfortable when they lie down. You can of course also try cross-legged, on a chair or in the lotus position.
  • Address your point of focus - Mindfulness is aided significantly by selecting a focal point and concentrating only on it to exclusion of everything else. This is how the mind becomes trained to address the present and to be aware of its points of change and continuity. You can focus on an imaginary scene or feeling, or you can focus on a flame or something you can actually look at. Mantras and chants can be useful too. You can even select one incidental word and keep repeating it to yourself. Anything that aids focus is good.
  • Adjust your attitude and outlook - If thoughts intrude during your exercise, don't consider them to be distractions from the focus. This is what causes frustration and ultimate breaks in concentration. Instead you need to gently turn your mind back to the point of focus and continue to do this in order to keep your focal point in sight. Before undergoing a mindfulness exercise it's best to spend some time reminding yourself that it's likely other thoughts or bodily sensations will enter your mind during meditation and that's ok. The goal is not to achieve total silence and untouchability. The goal is actually to embrace everything inside and outside with equal calm and with a sense of true balance. If successful meditation could only be achieved in complete silence with no distractions of any kind, we'd never get started with it!
Mindfulness is incredibly useful for stress relief. It's also an obvious exercise for training the mind to direct its focus very specifically. Exercises using mindfulness techniques can help with recurring memories or issues you feel unable to let go of, since the art of mindfulness is to follow a thought to its end point, thereby letting it go and releasing yourself from it.