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Meditation 101: Becoming Mindful

I am currently on a meditation retreat and about to begin three days of shared silence. Anyone who knows me would understand my anxiety about waking up and not talking.

I could argue that it’s not my nature, that I learn more about myself and the world in the daily exchanges with the people around me. And I honestly lament not having more time to get to know the amazing tribe of people who are in attendance. But everyone assures me that this particular form of meditation is one of the most powerful ways of self-recognition as well as a direct path of feeling into your connection to the divine. We’ll see.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

The foundation for this work starts with befriending your mind, commonly referred to as Mindfulness meditation. Originally a Buddhist practice that has been handed down for millennia, it is a training which aims to bring the practitioner into a fuller experience with the present moment. It takes practice because most of us are so continuously flooded with our thoughts, perceptions, and judgments about reality that we rarely experience the time or circumstances we are in. We are so accustomed to the noise and chatter that our mind relentlessly produces that we often cannot differentiate between the events of our lives from our personal spin on it.

Mindfulness is not strictly a spiritual discipline either. Many medical programs have adapted this training with remarkable benefits to patients with all kinds of physical and emotional issues. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) defined the practice for the western mind thus:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation?

Since the 1980s, extensive research has confirmed multiple physical and mental health benefits with the practice of mindfulness meditations. Everything from depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and stress is reduced, and immune functioning and healing in all areas are increased. Not only that, but the practice of mindfulness actually changes the brain itself. It decreases the circuitry linked with negativity and increases the circuits linked with positivity. And the developing science of neuroplasticity demonstrates that our brain is continuously growing and adapting.

This process of learning to watch your own thinking is so powerful because it severs the links between negative thoughts and emotions. With time and practice, anyone can learn how to step back, extend their reaction time and find comfort as a self-observer. Because this practice is skill-based, we all have the internal capacity to learn it and with practice we all have the ability to create more space and time in our brain.

There is a remarkable sense of freedom that grows in you when you are no longer being lead by every passing thought – with time, the practice instills a grace period where you can watch a thought enter, take shape and leave your mind, much like a cloud formation moving through the sky.

How Can I Get Started Practicing Mediation?

There are a lot of great resources available to learn these skills online. And almost every community offers a program which is a great way to get started. Most programs run for eight weeks. This is the time it takes most people to see a consistent benefit and have enough embedded practice that they can make a practice of their own. Mindfulness is the most basic building block to freeing yourself from the mental chains that bind us all.

Befriending our mind is a daily practice. Life always gives us more opportunities and challenges to master. As soon as we feel like we have some level of competence, we get to try again. Tomorrow, I will see how prepared I am to deal with the uninterrupted quiet of my own mind.