The Value of Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to a state of mind and practices which are conducive to that state. To enjoy the benefits of mindfulness practices, it’s essential to develop your capacity to discern the quality of mindfulness as well as a set of practices that fit well into your life. In this post, I offer some tips to help you achieve both.

To be mindful is to be focused on your present experience. Mindfulness of the present moment is different from remembering something from the past or anticipating something yet to happen. You orient to the ongoing inputs of your mind and body such as the feeling of your breath or the sounds in the room. If your mind shifts to a focus on the past or future, you gently reorient your attention on your ongoing experience. This is not to say that recall or planning are bad. But, being focused on the past or future is distinct from a present-centered awareness. It is useful to be able to discern the difference between mindful awareness and other states of mind.

Take a minute to relax and place your attention on your belly. Pay attention to the subtle movement of your body as you breathe. Don’t try to breathe in any different way. Let your breathing be as it is. Just place your attention on your belly. Say silently in your head, in, as you breathe in and, out, as you breathe out. Do this for a minute or two and you will naturally have things other than your breath come into your awareness. Notice if any of those things are memories from the past or things that draw you into the future. Having this wandering awareness is not any sort of failure. It’s the way our minds work. When you notice that you are not centered in the present moment, notice that and gently come back to your in-breath. Begin the practice anew.

Perhaps it is useful to think of mindfulness as a relative quality rather than a pure state. That is, we can have moments or periods of time when we are relatively more centered in the present and others when we aren’t. Rather than setting yourself up against enlightened bodhisattvas who can reside in a purely mindful state, be gentle with your practice. Point yourself in direction of mindfulness. Resolve to practice. Follow through with that agreement with yourself. But, don’t imagine that you will be free of distractions simply because you want it to be so.

Without moments of wandering mind, there would be no beneficial practice. This is because the development of the strength of your practice is partly dependent on the many moments when you are aware of your wandering awareness and you let go of the distraction and come back to a mindful focus. The devotional singer and teacher, Krishna Das, once said that meditation is developing your letting-go muscle. We will discuss how this aspect of mindfulness practice confers lower stress and anxiety in a future post. For now, trust that this is part of the process.

Mindful practice is any practice which is conducive to mindful awareness. There are many practices which facilitate present-centered attention. I suggest that you begin with simple practices which are easy to learn and do. It will also be better to begin a regular practice of just a few minutes per day. You might have an urge to begin a heroic practice in order to more quickly achieve your goals. But, sometimes these aspirations lead to over-reach and very little practice will happen. Perhaps you are already fairly busy and simply don’t have an extra forty-five minutes each day to shift to mindfulness practice. If you try to make a shift that isn’t ecologically sound with the rest of the elements in your life, you are more likely to fail. Better to start with five minutes per day and develop a habit which results in practice more days than not than to do a long session only twice each month. For example, you can sit or lie comfortably and listen to this three-minute guided meditation:

 

 

I recommend that you incorporate what I call The Brief Practice into your lifestyle. This means finding a practice that takes only a minute or so to execute and having it become something that you habitually do a few times each week. So often we find ourselves with a short amount of time when we don’t have to be mentally active such as waiting in line at the bank or grocery store or when stuck in a traffic jam on the way home from work. These are opportunities to add a minute or so of mindfulness to our overall cumulative practice. Here is a technique popularized by meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow yourself to breathe naturally. Say the first part of the two-part phrase with your in-breath and the second with your out-breath.

IN / OUT

DEEP / SLOW

CALM / EASE

SMILE / RELAX

This is an easy method and it will take you about thirty seconds. You can do it three to five times in a short period of downtime with ease. Even small periods of practice count. In a future part of this series of posts about mindfulness, I will explain why this is so. Now, know that you don’t have to commit to years of heroic practice to gain the valuable benefits of mindfulness practice. Just a few minutes per day will produce noticeable rewards in under two weeks. For a practice guide to support your implementing a daily practice, get my three-week program journal here:

 

 

 

Posted by Jon Peters