Prepared by Kay Davidson, PhD, and Philip Davidson, PhD
Mindfulness is a set of practices that leads to being more awake in and for your life. It is most often defined as “paying attention, on purpose, without judgment, to what is happening in the moment.” In other words, when mindful, we are noticing both our internal, subjective experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations) as well as our objective, external circumstances. We notice these experiences just as they are -- free of embellishments, opinions and stories.
Here is a story that offers an applied description of Mindfulness: Children, eight to ten years old, were taught mindfulness meditation for eight weeks. At the end, one ten-year-old boy was asked, “What is different for you now?” He responded, “Before mindfulness, I used to beat up my little sister two or three times a week, just because she was there. The last time I started to hit here, I stopped and thought, ‘Why would I do that?’ and decided not to hit her.”
As we learn this way of being with our experience, we begin to see how entangled we can become in old patterns and in unhelpful but well-conditioned viewpoints (especially about ourselves!). And within this growing awareness, we free ourselves from these patterns and stories that are no longer useful.
The research on the benefits of a mindfulness practice consistently demonstrates its effectiveness in reducing stress, in alleviating physical pain, in improving many medical conditions and in becoming kinder toward self and others. By discovering a new way of being with uncomfortable sensations, thoughts, and emotions, there opens a doorway to healing.
There’s more. Mindfulness has also been validated as a powerful resource for developing a clear mind, a more compassionate heart, and a greater sense of wellbeing.
An essential practice of Mindfulness is meditation, being silent for a defined time period while concentrating on the breath or just noticing whatever comes up. Other Mindfulness practices are:
Taking time each day to be explicitly grateful for whatever is present in your life
Helping others from a place of generosity can be of value
Connecting us with our innate capacity for kindness for ourselves and others
Easily doable in daily life, we can just stop from time to time and notice our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations without judgment, simply accepting them as they are in that moment. This practice helps build our awareness ‘muscle.’
The Chrysalis Perspective
Chrysalis Institute views Mindfulness as a core spiritual practice. Whether you are following your own spiritual growth path or are active in a spiritual or religious community, Mindfulness can be of great benefit in enhancing your spirituality. Even if you are just looking for some relief from the stress of daily life, it can be helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a mindfulness practice look like?
There are two aspects to a mindfulness practice: a formal meditation practice and an informal practice that is a part of daily life. The formal meditation practice helps settle the mind, enhances concentration and enables us to learn how our internal life pushes, pulls and obscures our interactions with the world. Meditation also gives us the resources to manage these influences in a way that is more in harmony with what matters most to us. The informal practices remind us to maintain a more alert, wakeful, kind and responsive presence as we go about our days.
Why would I want to sit in silence for 15 or 30 or 60 minutes? I am very busy and just don’t have time for that.
If you are totally happy with your life as it is, good for you. Keep on living it. If the busy-ness of your life makes you uncomfortable or you feel you are missing part of life, then you might find Mindfulness Meditation will help you feel less stressed, better able to make choices that suit you, and less distracted. It’s is all about the choices we make.
Do I really have to be silent for long periods of time? How long? How often?
When we just keep moving along with life, we miss much that is important to us. At some stage, we all feel as if it would be good “to stop and smell the roses.” Having a regular Mindfulness Meditation practice teaches us how to do that. At the beginning you can sit in silence for only three to five minutes per day, just noticing your breath. Once you can do that and it seems to be of value to you, then you can sit for longer periods and learn more ways to meditate. Research shows that even small amounts of meditation for limited periods helps us concentrate and relax, which usually makes us happier.
Is meditation about achieving some altered state? Doesn’t it come from the far east where people are pretty different from us here in the US?
There are meditation practices that lead to altered states and, if that interests you, then we can suggest other places to learn how to do that. Mindfulness Meditation is much more about just learning to be present to what is happening now instead of having our minds leading us every which way without our realizing it. Every wisdom tradition or religion has some form of contemplative practice. For example, Christianity has Centering Prayer and other rituals that bring our attention into the moment.
I have meditated some on my own but have difficulty keeping up with it. Is there some other way that will help me?
Meditating on your own can be a challenge. Many people like to meditate with a group, especially one that meets regularly. Even without much, if any talking, the group experience is comforting and does provide some peer support to keep us going. And many people find it helpful to listen to guided meditations such as those offered on the IMCW website and the UCLA website.
Tara Brach | True Refuge | Bantam, 2013
Jack Kornfield | A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life |Bantam, 1993
Chade-Meng Tan | Search Inside Yourself | HarperCollins, 2012
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