Meditation and Mindfulness are terms that are often used synonymously, and it is useful to explore what we mean by them. Generally, we can say that a more “mindful way of being” in the world can be brought about as a result of a regular meditation practice.
Through meditation, and other mindful practices taught on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses we teach, we begin to train ourselves to mentally stop, pause and reflect far more frequently, see our experience more clearly, and respond more creatively and helpfully in our daily lives, than has been our previous habit.
People usually associate meditation with sitting meditation. The symbol of the “Buddha” in peaceful sitting posture is extremely widespread in many cultures, and can be found in the most unlikely of places. There is obviously something deep within us that seeks peace of mind.
Many meditation practices involve sitting, although some can involve walking (or movement), lying down or standing. You will practice and learn all of these on the MBSR courses we teach. There will also be other mindfulness practices that are concerned with bringing awareness to your everyday activities.
All meditations involve re-locating oneself in a more peaceful environment, a reduction in external sensory input and the removal of distractions, to support the practice. Meditation is essentially a reflective activity involving a turning inwards of your mental energies.
Just like physical exercise builds muscle and flexibility, practising meditation enables the mind to become more flexible and thinking more helpfully directed. Many of us experience our minds as a torrent of thoughts, commentary and stories, which is, at the very least, tiresome and exhausting, and at worst, tyrannical and destabilising. The relentless activity of the mind can be all too obvious when we attempt to meditate. Some people abandon meditation after a few attempts. This can be due to unrealistic expectations, misunderstanding about meditation practice or a lack of sufficient guidance by a teacher.
Contrary to enduring popular belief, meditation is not likely to result in clearing the mind of all thoughts, although we can quieten the thinking mind down. It can be useful to think of sitting meditation as a kind of laboratory where we see how we react to our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Seeing these internal patterns can often be illuminating, satisfying and sometimes difficult. We begin to see how we respond reactively in unhelpful ways, and we can begin to reflect how we can act more helpfully and creatively. Whilst in meditation we can hear more clearly our “internal narrator”, the voice inside our minds that gives “the running commentary”, interpreting and discerning our experience, and creating habits and stories. On our courses, we gently begin to observe this “running commentary” with curiosity and interest.
It must be acknowledged that for many, meditation isn’t easy to start with. However, we can, with patience, support and persistence, learn to slow our mental activity so we can see what is happening more easily. We begin by taking an accepting approach to our experience and, through the group work we undertake, begin to see how we all have, much of the time, restless minds. Utilising the seven attitudinal factors, we approach meditation and mindfulness in a very gentle way. The practices taught on our MBSR courses are well structured and led. In addition, the CDs provided are principle supports of your home practice.
Mindfulness is an entirely natural function of mind we all experience from time to time. It can be made habitual through quiet reflective activity, such as meditation. “Mindfulness” has definite characteristics: spaciousness, perspective, calmness, inspiration, integration, purpose and clarity. There are Buddhist and other psychological models that begin to explore these characteristics.
For many, the qualities of mindfulness can be infrequent to begin with, and, more often, we experience our minds as fairly muddied, agitated, confused, tired and distracted, which is often unsatisfying. Seeing this clearly is extremely important as 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.