I began practicing mindfulness several years ago, as part of my training as a humanistic and integrative psychotherapist. At the start of each training session, we would all close our eyes and follow a guided meditation. I’ll be honest – in the beginning, I didn’t completely understand the point of it. But eventually, as time went on and I began practicing on my own, it became one of the most powerfully trans-formative experiences I have ever had.
In this series of four blogs, I will share what I have learnt through my experience in practicing mindfulness over the past few years, in order to hopefully give prospective practitioners a starting off point.
Why practice mindfulness?
I could discuss the many benefits that mindfulness has been shown to provide which, of course, are very interesting and important. But, fundamentally, you should practice mindfulness if you wish to gain a deeper insight into how your mind works.
Why would I want a deeper understanding of my mind?
The qualities of your mind dictate the qualities of your experience. If your mind is pervaded by hatred, your experiences will be pervaded by hatred. If your mind is plagued by jealousy, your experiences will be plagued by jealousy. If your mind is filled with compassion, your experiences will be filled with compassion. Seems pretty simple, but it’s true. So then we just have to decide what kind of experiences we want in life and learn how to cultivate the qualities of mind that will create them.
How does practicing mindfulness help me to lead the kind of life I want?
Most of us are carried from one moment to the next by whatever thought pops into our heads. We also tend to take our thoughts as true representatives of who we are. Similarly, thoughts tend to direct what we think of others too. For example, ‘If I have angry thoughts, I must be an angry person’, or ‘that person is unhappy, they must be an unhappy person’. If we practice this all day, every day, this dictates how we view ourselves and the people around us.
Mindfulness illuminates reality and the true nature of thoughts, as phenomena. They may be useful or they may be unuseful. But one thing is for certain – they’re not inherently true. We have the opportunity, as mindfulness practitioners, to determine the kinds of mind-states that we want to develop and the ones we want to abandon.
How does mindfulness teach us which mind-states to abandon and which to develop?
Through experimentation. By paying close attention to and observing the results that come from certain mind-states, I have built up a sort of catalogue of what is useful and what is not. If we don’t observe the flow of causes and effects, we can never know what to cultivate and abandon. We don’t just sit back and see what happens – it’s really very active.
So am I practicing mindfulness to avoid and gain certain mind-states?
This really gets to the heart of the practice. It seemed obvious to me in the beginning that, in order to have more well-being in my life, I needed to rid my mind of negative thoughts and fill it with positive ones. If nothing else, I found this to be exhausting. But, more than that, I found it to be frustrating and fruitless. At some point I decided to try a different approach – I accepted that my mind was wandering all over the place and I just began to observe it.
What I noticed most of all is that once I stopped giving the thoughts so much of my energy – by trying to get rid of them or hold on to them – the more inclined they were to just pass away on their own. This opened up a new expansive space to choose what states of mind I wanted to put my energy towards.
It’s not the thoughts that cause suffering in our lives, but our reaction to them. Mindfulness meditation shows us clearly that we cannot control what pops into our heads, but we can develop a more skilful attitude towards them.
So, if you’re new to mindfulness mediation, I would encourage you to take a few minutes now to see it for yourself. Sit down and observe your mind, accept its contents without discrimination or judgement and watch its naturally impermanent flow.
This is part of a much wider conversation – some of which I will be getting into during the next few blogs. So feel free to leave a comment or ask a question below. I’d be happy to hear from you!
Also, if you think you would like to learn a little more about mindfulness meditation, I am currently running groups in Galway City. Click here for more details.