A Basic Understanding of Mindfulness
The Basics of Mindfulness
Understanding the basics of mindfulness really comes down to two key principles. They are: Maintaining presence of mind, and maintaining awareness of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and bodily sensations. The idea is to live in the present, while maintaining a mental awareness that facilitates watching our thoughts and being honest with ourselves. Presence of mind greatly reduces dwelling on the past and stress of the future. It’s sort of a creative use of attention, to give us more awareness of self and details of the present. This helps us make the best choices to further ourselves and benefit others going forward. Meditation practice can significantly help increase the understanding of both these principles, but is not necessary to live mindfully.
Mindfulness is a great tool to practice meta-cognition, which is the act of thinking about thinking. There’s not been a genius or world-changing figure in history that didn’t practice some form of meta-cognition; and many have actually practiced this very method. Because of our increased understanding of the brain, mindfulness and meditation are rapidly gaining popularity in the scientific community. Especially in fields of biology, psychology, neuroscience, and quantum mechanics. Below is my basic understanding, but online resources are unlimited and people way smarter than I swear by this practice, and have given their own insights.
Maintaining Presence of Mind
First is to maintain presence of mind. As simple as it sounds, in our fast-paced techno society this practice has become increasingly difficult. A present state of mind is a mindset that allows us to look at everything from the past, and to the future, from a present perspective. What this means is that the past is simply that, the past. It’s something we can learn from but it is not who we are. There is nothing to gain by dwelling on regrets. Also, the future is sure to come, but we are mindfully in control of the present. Taking a present perspective on the future allows us to make better decisions about what we can do to prepare for it. A good way to understand presence of mind, is by consciously completing daily actions such as showering, eating, and brushing teeth, while being aware, and in the moment of what we are doing. While doing these trivial tasks, try to enjoy them. Be thankful for being alive, and having an opportunity many take for granted. This is opposed to the norm of letting our mind wander to far-off places while we complete these seemingly mindless tasks. Meditation is invaluable for increasing presence of mind, since while meditating the goal is to focus our awareness on strictly the present.
I’ve come to understand life as a sum-function of infinitely small moments. Each one leads to another. And life in our perspective will amount to nothing more than the sum of the thoughts/ feelings/ emotions contained within each of those moments. More command of the mind of the present means more control over one’s life.
To be mindful we must maintain awareness of our emotions, thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. This is equally, if not more important, than maintaining presence of mind. The idea behind this principle is that we use the mind, to watch the mind, to ultimately improve the mind. Getting an outside-like view of our thinking allows us to distance ourselves from the voice in our heads, and gain far more control over emotions and impulses. I think of it like using part of our awareness to create a mental observer within our minds to watch its thought processes. Our thought processes continually re-wire our brains through neuroplasticity. With this in mind, it’s a very beneficial to maintain awareness of our thoughts, which will eventually lead to more control over them. The goal is to learn to perceive thoughts–as opposed to just having them–and know them as activity of the mind so we are not taken over by them.
Meditation also helps apply self-awareness. In meditation, we attempt to block out sensory perceptions, focusing only on breathing, and watching our minds in the process. The mind will constantly drift at first, but the act of noticing it drift builds the ability to be mindful of our thoughts
As they say, “our minds can be our best friend, or our worst enemy.” Mindfulness has been invaluable in making mine clearer, and more friendly.
Some thoughts on Meditation
Meditation is a very strong tool for increasing our ability to understand and apply these principles. Meditation can be done in various ways, and does not have to be time consuming. In my experience a quick 10 minute meditation allows me to think more clearly. All you need to do to meditate is sit down, and consciously breath. Allow your mind to go nowhere but the breath for 10+ minutes. It will drift, that is the nature of it. But when you notice it drifting, bring it back to the breath. If we are unhappy with ourselves, perhaps even subconsciously, the reasons why will come out in meditation sooner or later. Many studies have been done on the benefits of meditation. It’s been proven to make changes in the brain’s grey matter, improving focus, self-awareness, and empathy while reducing stress. I have found an understanding of the meditative state to improve focus on virtually any task in life. (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/tag/mindfulness-meditation/)
The practicality of this tool is endless. Not only can it help us focus and do our best, it can help us be our best and feel better doing it. As they say, “the path is the way and the way is the path.” Our well-being is not a destination. It’s here, waiting to be seized in each and every present moment.