Why You Should Get On This One
It seems like everyone is talking about mindfulness this year. You likely saw it on the cover of Time magazine a few weeks ago, but it is being talked about literally everywhere from business magazines (like Forbes) to science journals (like Codex) to major news sources (like Reuters). There are stories about mindfulness practice on blogs from North America to Europe to Australia. The Huffington Post writes something about mindfulness at least once a day. I get a Google Alert on mindfulness in my Inbox every Monday morning and there are dozens of stories to read every time.
The myriad benefits of mindfulness that are being touted are as voluminous. People are saying that mindfulness cures anxiety, insomnia, and other stress related ailments. It apparently will make you more productive, more focused and even more successful (i.e., earning more money) at work. In your personal life it will make you happier, more content and maybe a better lover.
Hot damn, it sounds like a magical elixir for everything that is wrong with me – I’ll take it!
But wait a minute, is it real? I mean, can it possibly be? It sounds too good to be true…
The current hoopla about mindfulness (Time says it’s a “revolution”) is starting to sound like a fantasy land gold rush. While there is some quite fascinating research being done, with some positive seeming conclusions being drawn, the reality is that all this talk about mindfulness is beginning to sound more and more like an overhyped self-help/life coach program.
Not that I am against self-help or life coaching – I am always working on improving myself. But as a long time practitioner of mindfulness meditation, I will say that the real benefits of a consistent mindfulness practice aren’t as magical or as obvious as they are being presented to the public right now.
So what is mindfulness? A really short explanation is that mindfulness is a practice of focusing your awareness.
Although the definitions vary, depending on who you ask, usage of the word mindfulness comes from an English translation of the Pali word “sati” (Pali is an ancient language, descended from Sanskrit, in which the most prominent Buddhist texts are written). Sati is more of a verb than a noun, and it describes a state of awareness on an object of concentration. In (some of) the traditional Buddhist meditation techniques, a person practices focusing their awareness on the in and out breath (called, anapana sati) as a precursor to another, deeper, meditation on reality (called vipassana).
Obviously if you succeed at focusing your awareness in all your activities you will experience heightened attentiveness, mental balance, clarity of mind. Many of us experience that kind of focused awareness in one or another of our daily activities (for example running in the park or writing under a deadline or even when we are completely taken in by an episode of House of Cards).
So then what’s so special about this mindfulness practice? The magic of mindfulness is not that it will fix your problems, cure your diseases or make your life into the exact one you dream about by simply being more focused.
Sure, those things might happen, but the real benefit of a mindfulness practice is that you will begin to understand the inner workings of your mind. The more you sit and practice awareness of your breath (or the deeper vipassana technique) the more you will be able to maintain that awareness while you encounter and observe all of your life from a different point of view – the one that takes into account the simultaneous existence of your body and your mind.
There is one thing a mindfulness practice can promise though: a deeper understanding of YOU. And self understanding leads to all kinds of greatness no matter what you do for a living or where you find yourself in your life.
So go ahead and get on the mindfulness bandwagon because you will benefit (even if it’s in a way you don’t expect).
You can start with a simple “mindfulness of the breath” meditation practice for 5 minutes each day. It’s easy: just find a comfortable seat (on the floor or in a chair), sit and breathe. Focus on your breath. Each time your mind wanders to something else, bring your attention back to your breath.
Don’t worry if you are just getting started. Consistent practice will get you there eventually.
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