People often use meditation and mindfulness interchangeably, so let’s discuss what they mean.
Both meditation and mindful practices teach us to:
- Mentally stop, pause and reflect more frequently
- See our experience more clearly
- Respond more creatively
You probably associate meditation with sitting, since the symbol of the “Buddha” in peaceful sitting posture is extremely widespread. There is obviously something deep within us seeking that peace of mind.
While sitting is part of many meditation practices, lying down, movement or even standing are all conducive. You will practice each of these in our MBSR courses along with mindfulness practices that raise your conscious awareness as you go about your daily life.
All meditation requires you to find a peaceful environment, reduce sensory input and remove distractions. Meditation is mostly reflective, turning your mental imagery inwards. For many of us, this is a first real experience at examining our mental life.
What we discover is that we experience our mind as a torrent of thoughts, commentary, and judgment, often sapping energy and leaving us exhausted. At its worst, this non-stop internal monologue can become tyrannical and destabilising.
The constant mental noise is all too apparent in early attempts at meditation, causing some to abandon meditation after just a few tries. Sometimes, unrealistic expectations, misunderstanding about meditation or improper guidance also cause people to give up.
But just like physical exercise builds strength and flexibility over time, practicing meditation creates mental flexibility and consciously-directed thought, resulting in a calmer, happier mental state.
Think of sitting meditation as a kind of laboratory where you hear more clearly your “internal narrator,” the voice inside that’s producing a running commentary every second, interpreting, judging, creating habits and stories. This can be an illuminating and sometimes challenging exercise, as we see our reactive self, often behaving on impulse and sometimes making situations worse.
In our courses, we gently begin to observe this “running commentary” with curiosity and interest. Soon, you will be experimenting with new mental approaches to acting more calmly and creatively.
For many, meditation isn’t easy to start with. It takes a little patience to learn to quiet your mind so you can see what is happening more clearly. We begin our group work by accepting that our minds are restless, even hyper.
We use a highly structured and well-led process to introduce the seven attitudinal factors, gently easing into mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation is not likely to result in clearing the mind of all thoughts, as many believe, but we can learn to quiet the thinking mind, observe its actions, and begin a process of controlling and directing it that increases inner calm and exudes quiet confidence.
Mindfulness is an entirely natural function of mind we all experience from time to time. You probably remember spontaneous moments in your life when you have felt bliss, a deep peace, and a calm, focused mind. For many people, the beauty of nature inspired the moment; others may have experienced it in a faith setting.
This state of mind is a glimpse of the meaning of mindfulness, which has specific characteristics including spaciousness, perspective, calmness, inspiration, integration, purpose and clarity.
For many, the qualities of mindfulness are infrequent at first. More often, we experience our minds as fairly muddied, agitated, confused, tired, and distracted, an unsatisfying state of affairs. Seeing this is extremely important, since it motivates us to train in mindfulness.
For those who are interested, Buddhism explores the nature and origins of dissatisfaction of mind in a thorough manner.