Introduction to Mindfulness

 

 

 

Welcome to life.  

Awareness of the here and now.  Put the awareness into the body which always exists in the present moment.  

Interrupt the normal operations of the thinking mind and of normal patterns of mental and emotional activity.  Focus the attention.   By taking control of the conscious mind, we are in a sense taking control of the ego, since the conscious mind is a large and integral part of the ego.  

One is taming, training, and relaxing the ego; and its tendencies to take care of your interests exclusively, to compete, to monitor threats, to give way unquestioningly to the emotions/desire/aversion, and to employ subconscious ego defenses.  It is not surprising that meditation promotes calm and restfulness.  

Mindfulness promotes observation, awareness, mental clarity, insight, oneness, self-discipline, and the Reality Principle over the Pleasure Principle, and reduces fear and stress.  

 

 

Love is the absence of judgement.  

His Holiness The Dalai Lama

 

... the true nature of the mind ... the union of awareness and openness.

Tulku Thondup – “The Healing Power of Mind”

 

 

Thinking, evaluating, reacting; and observing.  Talking and listening.  

The attention can only be on one thing at a time.  Your mind can think, or it can observe, but it can’t do both at once.  We cannot talk and listen at the same time.  In order that we can observe, the thinking, evaluating, reacting, analysing mind has to be made quiet.  

 

 

Learning mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a skill that you gradually learn rather than a set of ideas, but it  helps to know some theory.  

In order to learn mindfulness meditation, you need to find an experienced teacher.  One place to look is your local Buddhist centre.    

 

 

YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AND HOW YOU THINK.  This is called neuroplasticity. ...

Scientific evidence has shown that neurons (brain cells) can rewire and change patterns throughout your lifetime as a result of your experiences and how you think about them. ...  

But it takes time to alter your habits of thinking; ... It takes intentional concentration and repetition over time.  You can change but only if you make the effort not to do the same old thing, the same old way, day in and day out.  You, and the way you see the world, are the architect of how your brain is mapped. ...

We can, with certain practices such as mindfulness, actually have some control over the chemicals in our brains that drive us to stress, to anxiety and even to happiness.  This remarkable organ in our heads holds infinite wisdom but so few of us know how to use it.  It’s similar to having a Ferrari except no one gave you the keys.  

The reality is that the demanding voice in our heads is not who we are, it plays a very small part in the big scheme of things.  What’s really running you is a million, trillion gigabyte-powered engine room in your brain, managed by your DNA, that instructs hormones, memories, muscles, blood, organs and really everything that happens inside you to ensure that you survive at all costs, and not that stupid inner monologue about why you’re too fat to wear tights.  

My aim ... is to show you how to become the master of your mind and not the slave.  If you learn how to self-regulate your moods, emotions and thoughts, and focus your mind on what you want to pay attention to rather than be dragged into distraction, you might just reach that illusive thing called happiness.  

... The point is still to experience feelings, even positive ones as transitory; they all pass so you're not aiming at holding onto a feeling of beatific bliss but of equanimity, of 'going with the flow'.  

Ruby Wax – “Sane New World – taming the mind”

 

 

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

 

 

Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental awareness in the present moment.  It stems from ancient Theravada Buddhist philosophy and Indian yoga traditions of samaadhi as a means of gaining personal insight into the meaning of life, the true nature of existence and to achieve long-lasting happiness.  There are two primary aspects to mindfulness: the first is attention to one’s immediate experience and the second is an orientation to approaching life experiences with a sense of curiosity, acceptance and openness.  Mindfulness is cultivated through meditative practices that focus on attention regulation (sustained attention to internal and external stimuli such as smells, sounds, feelings and emotions), bodily awareness and non-reactivity to inner experiences (allowing thoughts and emotions to come and go without being caught up with them).  Mindfulness encompasses a variety of practices such as meditation, visualizing, focused thought, deep breathing, nature connectedness and artistic self-expression that are unified in their application of critical first-person attention, focus and intention to the present moment.  Existing research demonstrates that mindfulness promotes well-being, stimulates positive emotions and lowers stress-related symptoms such as anxiety, pain, substance abuse and depression.  

Srividya Ramasubramanian  – “Mindfulness, stress coping and everyday resilience among emerging youth in a university setting: a mixed methods approach”:  International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 2016

 

 

Links:  

Letchworth Buddhist Academy

Meditation makes you more compassionate

Compassion and mindfulness

Meditation Influences Emotional Processing Even When You're Not Meditating: Study

Meditation reduces feelings of loneliness and expression of inflammatory genes

The lethality of loneliness: John Cacioppo at TEDxDesMoines

Meditation increases brain connectivity

Meditation makes you more happy

What it really means to be in the present moment

Intention, attention and attitude

The biology of mindfulness and compassion

Buddhanet.net on meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn on mindfulness - Youtube

What Does 10 Years of Meditation Teach You?

Daily Zen:  5 ways meditation will change you

Some dangers of meditation

 

Stanford psychologist and meditation teacher Kelly McGonigal, PhD, describes recent research in how meditation practice changes the brain and reduces suffering, including physical pain and depression.  Presented at the Buddhist Geeks conference in Los Angeles, CA, July 30, 2011.

Mindfulness – Prof Mark Williams Lecture

Science Oxford Live March 2012.  Professor Mark Williams from Oxford University delivers a lecture to the public about the science of mindfulness.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar's amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Seven Attitudinal Factors of mindfulness

According to Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, Seven Attitudinal Factors constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice.  It is recommended to read Dr Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living” which brought considerable awareness of mindfulness practice to the secular sector and even brought mindfulness meditation into the mainstream health sector generating successful results.  

Those Seven Factors are:

  1. Non-judging
  2. Patience
  3. A beginner’s mind
  4. Trust
  5. Non-striving
  6. Acceptance
  7. Letting go.  

 

 

The Way of Mindfulness

 

[if] you are not focusing on your current experience, and you are not really in touch with the “here and now” ... this way of operating is often referred to as automatic pilot mode.  

Mindfulness is the opposite of automatic pilot mode.  It is about experiencing the world that is firmly in the “here and now”.  This mode is referred to as the being mode.  It offers a way of freeing oneself from automatic and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding.  

 

Benefits of Mindfulness

By learning to be in mindful mode more often, it is possible to develop a new habit that helps to weaken old, unskillful, unhelpful and automatic thinking habits.  For people with emotional problems, these old habits can involve being overly preoccupied with thinking about the future, the past, themselves, or their emotions in a negative way.  Mindfulness training in this case does not aim to immediately control, remove, or fix this unpleasant experience.  Rather, it aims to develop a skill to place you in a better position to break free of or not “buy into” these unhelpful habits that are causing distress and preventing positive action.  

 

Core Features of Mindfulness:

Observing:  

The first major element of mindfulness involves observing your experience in a manner that is more direct and sensual (sensing mode), rather than being analytical (thinking mode).  A natural tendency of the mind is to try and think about something rather than directly experience it.  Mindfulness thus aims to shift one's focus of attention away from thinking to simply observing thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations (e.g. touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) with a kind and gentle curiosity.  

Describing:

This aspect of mindfulness relates to noticing the very fine details of what you are observing.  For example, if you are observing something like a tangerine, the aim is to describe what it looks like, what is its shape, colour, and texture.  You might place a descriptive name to it, like “orange”, “smooth”, or “round”.  The same process also can be applied to emotions (e.g. “heavy”, “tense”).  

 

Participating Fully:

An aim of mindfulness is to allow yourself to consider the whole of your experience, without excluding anything.  Try to notice all aspects of whatever task or activity you are doing, and do it with your full care and attention.  

 

Being Non-judgemental:

It is important to adopt an accepting stance towards your experience.  A significant reason for prolonged emotional distress relates to attempts to avoid or control your experience.  When being more mindful, no attempt is made to evaluate experiences or to say that they are good, bad, right, or wrong, and no attempt is made to immediately control or avoid the experience.  Accepting all of one's experience is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness, and takes time and practice to develop.  Bringing a kind and gentle curiosity to one's experience is one way of adopting a non-judgemental stance.  

 

Focusing on One Thing at a Time:

When observing your own experiences, a certain level of effort is required to focus your attention on only one thing at a time, from moment to moment.  It is natural for distracting thoughts to emerge while observing, and there is a tendency to follow and “chase” these thoughts with more thinking.  The art of “being present” is to develop the skill of noticing when you have drifted away from the observing and sensing mode, into thinking mode.  When this happens it is not a mistake, but just acknowledge it has happened, and then gently return to observing your experience.  

 

How to Become Mindful:  

Mindfulness is a skill that takes time to develop.  It is not easy, and like any skill it requires a certain level of effort, time, patience, and ongoing practice.  Mindfulness can be taught in a number of ways.  Meditation is one of the key techniques used in mindfulness training, but not the only technique.  

 

Mental Defilements:

Imperfections or human weaknesses (Kilesa).  Kilesa are defilements of the mind.  There are three main defilements:  

  1. Greed (lobha)
  2. Hatred (dosa)
  3. Delusion (moha)

The Characteristics of Lobha:  

The tendency of the mind to stick to an object, greed, lust, craving, attachment, covetousness, envy, conceit, holding on to one’s own opinions.  

The Characteristics of Dosa:

The tendency of the mind to repel an object, hatred, anger, ill-will, jealousy, disrespect, stubbornness.  

The Characteristics of Moha:  

Delusion, ignorance, inaccurate and less objective perception of reality.  

 

To achieve success in meditation, moral conduct should be much better than average.  Moral transgression occurs because of the mental defilements.  Moral transgression can wreck or damage sincerely and considerably the benefits of mindfulness.  The beginner should at least abstain from immoral behaviour and indulgence in intoxicating drink or drugs.  

 

Thanks to Bhante Samitha