Are Modern Mindfulness Meditators Missing a Trick?
Mindfulness seems to be in fashion at the moment. Mental health and wellbeing centres are doing it. Workplace wellness programs are doing it. Even the Canadian police force is doing it, if recent news articles are to believed.
The practice of Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and many modern-day Mindfulness practitioners believe it could be key to stress prevention and relief. Indeed scientific studies have borne out these suggestions, showing a whole range of benefits, including an increased resilience to stress.
How Is Mindfulness Meditation Done?
The most common way of doing Mindfulness is sitting still and focusing on your breath. You find the part of the breath that is easiest to identify with your senses, whether that is the coolness of the air as it enters your nose or mouth, or the feeling of your lungs filling up, or your ribcage rising and falling. The idea is to focus on that sensation alone to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
However, the human mind has a great capacity to wander and before you know it, even experienced Mindfulness practitioners may find they’re thinking about something else like what they’re having for dinner, what time it is, or any other thought that has no relation to the actual physical sensation of breathing.
Beginner meditators especially may be plagued by thoughts of “Am I doing this right?” “How many breaths have I got to do now?” “How long will I be expected to do this for?” Meditation teachers will tell you that it is normal for your mind to go off on tangents and when you’ve noticed it has, then to gently, non-judgmentally pull your focus back to your breath again and again.
What Many Modern Meditators Think The Benefits of Mindfulness Are
Many modern meditators, who are doing breath-focussed Mindfulness as some sort of workplace wellness programme or as part of a therapeutic exercise may think that the point of Mindfulness is to help them train their brain, feel at peace, enter into the moment and get a reprieve from their stressful thoughts.
And yes Mindfulness does do all those things. But maybe the most important part of Mindfulness Meditation is actually noticing how you respond when you do lose focus of your breathing. This can lead to the greatest self-development and cultivation of inner peace of all.
The Supreme Benefit of Mindfulness
Notice what you say to yourself when you have realised that your mind has wandered off into other territory. Do you curse at yourself or criticise yourself? Are you angry or frustrated? Do you tell yourself you’ll never be good at anything or that this is a pointless waste of time? Or are you neutral and calm and just refocus back to the breath?
Your reaction when you lose your focus on your breath is a mirror of how you’re responding to life and to your participation in it at the moment. That’s one of the most deep and powerful benefits of Mindfulness. It lays bare to you how reactive you are, whether you are critical of yourself, and whether you are unfair or harsh to yourself as a rule. It points these reactions out in a way that you can’t deny, because you’ve just shown yourself you’ve done it. And that inner realisation is far better than a friend or therapist pointing it out, with whom you might be tempted to react defensively (if that’s where you are in life at the moment, or part of your coping style).
How Can You Improve Through Mindfulness?
Through noticing your emotional state, you can seek to change it. If you aren’t aware of any negative coping strategies, self-talk or reactions in the first place, there is no way to change them. Once you have seen for a fact, through Mindfulness, what the truth is, only then can you address those parts of your personality which may be making you stressed and unhappy through therapy, self-help or spiritual practice.
Of course, Mindfulness itself requires patience and tolerance and by practising regularly, you can learn to become more patient and tolerant of yourself and others. You can use self-talk positively during Mindfulness sessions by mentally reassuring yourself that it’s OK for the mind to wander – it’s the nature of life, then be kind to yourself by allowing the mind to gently let go of whatever thought it was clinging to, rather than pushing the thought away, and gently returning, than forcing, your focus back to the breath.