Everyone knows being mindful means paying close attention to what we are doing. In the last few decades, however, due to the influence of Eastern philosophies and practices, a more precise definition of mindfulness has emerged. Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when purposefully paying full attention to our experience, including our own thoughts, feelings, behaviors and external events that occur on a moment-to-moment basis and this, without judgement, or in other words, with openness and receptiveness. Actually, the most challenging part of mindfulness is maintaining a non-judgmental stance while paying attention to our experience.
For example, drinking a glass of water mindfully (in mindfulness) means bringing awareness to sensations of water in the mouth, from the moment it touches the lips to the instant it hits the stomach and, then, disperses. The same kind of attending applies to internal processes such as thoughts and feelings, which are more likely to evoke judgment. Mindfulness practice helps us notice judgment and let it go.
Mindfulness is a form of brain training in which the brain slows down to notice everything about a certain phenomenon or activity. When it comes to our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness helps us perceive more accurately our experience, including our blind spots with some degree of detachment. Its aim is to see things as they really are and more clearly" (Salzberg,1995).
Deliberately observing our experience slows down response time thus avoiding regrettable knee-jerk reactions and enabling actions that are more in line with personal values and ethics. In other words, mindfulness expands the gap between stimulus and response. That is why mindfulness leads to personal transformation. Nephi cried: "I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye"(2 Nephi 9:44). It appears Nephi desired to be transparent before God in order to grow more godly and holy.
Mindfulness is also the gateway to enjoying the daily gifts of life more abundantly, such as the sensations of the warm sunrays on your skin or the song of a bird while taking a walk in the middle of a busy day.
Mindfulness is often prescribed in psychotherapy and self-improvement approaches. In order to increase positive affect and outlook, informal mindfulness can be prescribed to a depressed individual, for instance, when engaging in seemingly mundane activities such as listening to someone talk, doing the dishes, listening to birds chirping or noticing other pleasant or neutral events. Mindfulness instructions to an anxious student may include paying attention to the class assignment at-hand (staying in the present moment) instead of worrying about what final grade s/he will eventually earn at the end of the semester (jumping ahead).
In the last couple of decades, scientific research has yielded encouraging findings regarding mindfulness. According to Brown and Ryan (2003), high mindfulness scores are positively correlated with desirable states such life satisfaction, emotional IQ, positive affect, self-esteem, and openness to experience.
Learners of mindfulness will improve their skills by adding mindfulness meditation to their routine. Meditation is to mindfulness what exercising and weight training is to physical endurance and strength. “Informal” mindfulness will improve with the aid of meditation, also called “formal mindfulness.”
When practicing mindfulness meditation you simply choose an object of focus, place your attention on it and when your attention wanders off, or as soon as you notice you have been distracted by your own thoughts/feelings or an event, gently return to your object of focus without any judgment. Typical objects of focus are the movements of the breath inside the body, noises in the room, an object such as an open flame or clouds in the sky, music, the simple sensations created in the body by walking, yoga, etc.
To train your brain effectively, practice “formal mindfulness meditation” three to five minutes daily, and move your way up to twenty to thirty minutes once or even twice a day. You can also practice “informal mindfulness meditation,”meaning the simple skill of mindfulness, any time, for a few minutes, or even seconds as you mindfully eat, walk, do the dishes, listen to someone speak, the goal being to live your life as mindfully as possible, being present in the moment with your experience.
At first, beginners experience their attention as being something very unstable, but with a little time and practice, the mind calms down or, better said, settles. Meditators, then, begin noticing the benefits that come with meditating on a regular basis.
Instructions for Breath Meditation
All you have to do is notice and observe your breath; track how your breath moves in your body with each inhalation and exhalation.
Try three minutes at first, and eventually work your way up to twenty minutes.
Find a quiet, relaxing environment. When beginning, it’s important to avoid obvious distractions. Turn off/silence TV sets, phones and tablets. If you play music, make sure it's calm, repetitive and gentle, so as not to break your concentration. Breath meditation can be done outside, as long as you don't sit near a busy road or another source of loud noise.
You can meditate on a chair, with your feet flat on the ground. You can also sit on the ground using a cushion if the floor is uncomfortable. If you choose to lie down, be careful that you are not so relaxed that you fall asleep.
Keep your eyes shut or you can also keep them half-open gazing to the floor, one to two feet beyond your feet.
Let your attention rest of the flow of your breath. Listen to it, or sense it at the tip of your nostrils. Beginners may find it easier to count their breaths. Try counting your breath (on the in-breath or the out-breath) from 1 to 10 and then, back from 10 to 1.
You will soon notice that your mind wanders off because you will lose your concentration. If your mind starts wandering or bouncing from thought to thought, do not judge yourself for it, but simply and gently bring your attention back to your breath. If you were counting, return to 1 and start all over. It's the practice of going back to the breath that trains your mind. In other words, don't judge yourself for getting distracted; distractions provide you with the opportunity to build a strong stable mind. Someone said, thoughts are to the mind what saliva is to the mouth—normal!
Don't force your breath, just breathe naturally and observe your breath. Sometimes, it will be long and deep, sometimes short and shallow. Get curious about the variety of your breaths.
At the end of your session, stretch and slowly move out of your meditation place.
There are many ways to meditate. This document only describes the most common and foundational meditation practice, the breath meditation. Meditators choose what works for them depending on personality, life style, preference, religion, culture, and personal challenges (see below in More information and resources)
- It is easy to lose track of time while meditating. Some people find it liberating to set a timer with a gentle ring (such as ringtones found on cell phones).
- Some people find it difficult to meditate immediately before bedtime. If you are sleepy, chances are you will fall asleep; conversely, it may energize your mind, making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Do not expect immediate results. Meditation works best when done for its own sake, without attachment to specific results.
- Set aside time for daily practice, starting with just a few minutes.
Formal mindfulness meditation, which focuses on inner experience as described above, should not be practiced by individuals who are psychotic or losing/afraid of losing touch with reality or by folks who have experienced trauma that still overwhelms them, unless it is part of their treatment program. Nevertheless, those individuals can still practice daily moments of mindfulness of the external world, especially when distressed.
Salzberg, S (1995). Loving kindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boston: Shambhala Publications (Quoted in Natural Health Magazine, September 2010, p. 70).
Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-84
More Information and Resources
Full Catastrophe Living - Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Mindfulness in Plain English - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Turning the Mind into an Ally - Sakyong Mipham
When Things Fall Apart - Pema Chodron
The Power of Now – Ekhart Tolle
A New Earth – Ekhart Tolle
Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat- Zinn.
Christ-Centered Meditation - Pam Blackwell
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening - Cynthia Bourgeault
The path of Centering Prayer – David Frenetter
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression - Zindel Segal.
The Mindfulness Solution - Ronald D. Siegel
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ -- Access articles on meditation by John Kabat-Zinn and Zindel Segal.
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