A friend recently posted, “Overtures of peace from President Rouhani of Iran, Syria possibly giving up its chemical weapons, Pope Francis saying that gays and atheists can get into heaven, recreational cannabis legalized in two states, and Miley keeping her tongue inside her mouth for 24 hours. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all!”
Humor and eternal optimism aside, how can we, seemingly completely removed personally from most of the above-mentioned scenarios (although ultimately we’re ALL connected and affected, right?), effect good things in the world? Perhaps the above-mentioned are related to the fact that more people are becoming aware of the impact of mindfulness. No, wait, hear me out!
Yes, the concept has roots in Buddhist meditation, but secular adoption of mindfulness has increased as science has come to prove the emotional balance it offers and therefore good health. Countless studies have shown it helps improves our immune systems, while helping us cope with stress, develop empathy and reduce anger and hostility (shown in prisons) thereby enhancing relationships. See?
It’s not voodoo, it’s not Christian, it’s not necessarily religious at all — so it can be practiced by anyone. From “mindful” eating to lose weight to tuning out distractions, improving our memory and attention skills, mindfulness has a part in everyone’s life.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.
“Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them — without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune
into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#what_is).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, says, “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum. It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”
He offers these points in developing your own practice:
- Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Notice — really notice — what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
- Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from negative thought patterns.
- Tune into your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
The Greater Good website presented a lovely exercise called the raisin meditation wherein you take a single raisin, then use your visual and tactile senses to notice as much as you can until you put it in your mouth and do the same, noticing every aspect of it as it rolls in your mouth, and finally swallowing it, following it down.
Further, a method of teaching meditation to children suggested creating a positive intention such as “May I feel peaceful, happy and strong.” Then direct those thoughts toward someone you love or care for, followed by someone you feel neutral about and finally, most importantly send those thoughts toward someone they have a problem with. A great way to build empathy and shift their emotions!
Wrap the process up with directing those feelings toward the world in general: “May the world feel peaceful, happy and strong,” or whatever it is you choose. The idea is to tune in to the details of your life without rushing on to the next thought before you even realize what you have already got in your hands.
Don’t focus on what you don’t want — rather, what you want! Perhaps people are starting to realize we all want peace and prosperity, but our lack of full attention gets in the way sometimes. (OK, since the beginning of time.) Give it a shot for three weeks, every day, same time if possible (to make it a habit) and see how much calmer and less scattered you are. Just sayin’