I’ve been involved in self-inquiry practices, such as the Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta, and other less dogmatic “Non-Dual” philosophies since my early twenties. And although some of these teachings and practices fit under the umbrella of meditation, it’s not what I want to focus on in today’s post.
Instead, I’d like to point out the benefits of what now is generally known as mindfulness. In our hectic life, this form of meditation can offer relaxation, decrease anxiety and help you stay balanced, especially when things “don’t go your way.”
I see meditation training as a form of preparation. Mindfulness prepares you for the worst day in your life and will help you to deal with difficult situations, simply by seeing what you are and what you are not.
The practice itself is simple, yet can prove tremendously difficult for our scattered, 21-century minds:
It’s the art of paying attention.
Just notice what is arising in every moment.
Whether it’s a sound, an image, a sensation in the body. Just see it. Let it be. See how it comes and goes. See its fleeting nature. It’s constant change.
Your breathing, the sound of the birds, the thought of doing laundry tomorrow morning, the notification sound on your phone.
Notice the difference between what’s actually happening (pure sensations, sounds…) and the thinking about what’s happening.
The “thinking about” part appears to be our default mode these days. From this perspective, we filter and view all our experiences through the screen of past/future concepts.
Let’s say we are angry. How do we know we feel angry? How does anger feel in our hands, our spine, on our face? By taking attention away from the thought (e.g., “I’m so angry because he lied to me about what he did last week!” Notice the Past Tense) we can observe the pattern of energy resolve itself in the body, at least at that moment. It no longer has the implication it had a moment ago when we were busy “being angry.”
Through meditation training, we can learn to stop ourselves in our tracks before we go off the deep end. We all know too well how it feels when we get lost in anger or guilt and our thoughts lead us deep down the imaginary rabbit hole. Its walls paved with shit that happened 20 years ago and picture frames of personal, future doomsday scenarios. I’m sharing a personal experience here but assume that your rabbit hole’s interior doesn’t look much different.
We can become sensitive to how it is we suffer and what’s behind our suffering. Most of the time we are lost and identify with our thoughts. They pop up through the automaticity of thinking – without us being aware of it. Do you believe you are the author of your thoughts? Try not to think of an orange for two minutes. Oops. I rest my case.
A thought just arises and being identified with it carries the felt sense that you are indeed, the thinker. In meditation, it can be seen that this process is based on a false premise. The sense of self is a product of not seeing the thought as a thought, arising in a larger condition — let’s call it mind, consciousness or “all there is.”
But I digress.
Practicing mindfulness can enrich your daily life. It’s almost a form of detachment, a dis-identification with your thoughts. At a certain point, even and especially in difficult situations, you notice thoughts for what they are and not be any more identified with the voice in your head than you are with my voice (words).
I believe mindfulness is a skill. And like any skill, if you want to get good at it, you need to practice.