Western psychology has increasingly found the Buddhist training in mindfulness to be very effective in reducing stress, enhancing emotional intelligence, increasing self-awareness and learning how to handle painful thoughts and feelings.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practise of bringing the skills of meditation into daily life so that you can keep your cool in the heat of the moment. It enables you to evaluate situations better and make clearer and wiser decisions so that you are not driven by the habitual thoughts and emotions which normally run our lives.
mindfulness: keeping your ‘mind full’ of whatever you are focused on . . . you are right there with whatever you are doing, right in the present moment.
Being mindful means paying attention and staying focused, exactly as you do whenever you set out to achieve something. We’ve all done it – it’s what we learned to do at school. A good way to think of it is to see it as keeping your mind full of whatever you are focused on so that it’s not going anywhere else. You are right there with whatever you are doing, right in the present moment.
In Buddhism mindfulness means exactly the same thing – to pay attention and to hold something in mind. It’s such an important and valuable skill, so why, when you learned to focus and pay attention at school wasn’t it necessarily a pleasant experience?
The main reason for this is that your body was generally left out of the process. Many of us learned to focus by denying our bodies and what we were feeling.
The unique thing in the meditation tradition is that mindfulness begins by taking your body into account, and this makes concentration a very pleasant experience. The Buddhist training in mindfulness relies on meditation to relax your body and calm your mind, and then starts with being mindful of your body.
This is why psychotherapists find mindfulness so effective. It has brought the body into psychology instead of focusing just on cognitive understanding (on the psyche, the mind). With the calm of meditation you are then in a much stronger position to accept and take account of whatever you are experiencing, whether it be unhealthy habit patterns, anxiety, or physical pain for example.
Mindfulness in daily life
Our habits are not, as we often believe, set for all time, they are actually much more open to change than we realise. Healthy habits are flexible in the same way that a healthy body is flexible. Therefore mindfulness can be used to establish and enhance healthy mental and emotional habits – something we don’t realise that we have control over. However, this is one of its greatest benefits.
You begin by using meditation to move your focus to your body, to your senses and the sensations you are experiencing, so that you are centred in your body. It is then much easier to become aware of your emotions and your thoughts – that endless undercurrent which runs our lives and determines our habits and decisions, usually without us being at all aware of it.
A mindfulness technique which is a specialty of the Lifeflow Centre is the Three C Technique. It helps you to become aware of what is happening and then gives you some space from your habitual reactions, so that you are able to change your habits. The effect is the same as putting a car in neutral: the engine will still be running, but the gears aren’t engaged, so the car isn’t moving. Your thoughts and emotions might still be running, but they won’t drive you. You have disengaged from them.
Effective decisions in life and at work
The key to mindfulness is that you are able to see your thoughts and emotions without reacting to them. You can accept them as they are, without feeling the need to ‘fix’ them or get rid of them. This enables you to be much more kind and accepting with yourself, and so opens up choices which you would normally not have been able to consider.
From here you can make much clearer and wiser decisions about what to do – or not do if appropriate – from the painful situations we get caught in simply out of habit, right through to the caring and loving relationships of our lives where we really want to be open-hearted and truly responsive.
If you are interested in the big questions, the traditional training in mindfulness also includes the insights which you can have while meditating. These can be developed so that you can experience how human consciousness works, and the clear, radiant, open awareness of our minds.
Learning how to establish and maintain your mental and emotional health is one of the most valuable things you can learn to do. It gives an inner strength which leads to a much more happy life. Your emotions and your thoughts can be in your own hands.