“It is the mind that translates good and bad circumstances into happiness or misery. So happiness comes with the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred, compulsive desire, arrogance and jealousy, which literally poison the mind. It also requires that one cease to distort reality and that one cultivate wisdom.” ~ Matthieu Ricard
Mindfulness is the new black. It is an effective mental technique, borrowed from the two thousand year old Buddhist contemplative practice and adapted to suit non-religious contexts, including board rooms, corporations, hospitals, schools and sports teams.
It is a practice which supports the capacity to stay focussed on what you are doing as you are doing it, a powerful antidote to the distractible nature of the mind and the information-overload in our digital world.
When practised regularly, mindfulness can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, reducing stress and enhancing mental capacity.
It helps us to get out of negative thought loops.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James
So often what gets in the way of our happiness is the tendency of the mind to fall into unhelpful loops of negative thinking. This can propel us into a downward spiral and affect our lives in many unhelpful ways.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of rigorous training of the mind which helps us to become more familiar with the nature of the mind and more skilful in noticing when our minds are getting caught up in these unhelpful patterns of thought. When we learn to observe this, we can actually choose to disengage and move our attention in ways that support us rather than pull us down.
Whether its loops of worry, planning into the future, replaying events from the past, or caught up in self-judgment—when we develop the skill of mindfulness and bring this quality of awareness to the working of our own mind—we open up a whole new possibility toward greater happiness. We begin to have the power to be the master rather than the slave of our mind.
Next time you catch yourself in a negative thought loop, see it for what it is, the mind caught up in a wheel of thinking, and realise that at any moment you can simply disengage from that pattern of thinking and move your attention to something else. Try redirecting your attention to the body by engaging in some kind of physical activity. This may short circuit negative thinking and ground you back to the here and now.
It makes us feel more connected to others.
“The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention” ~ Jim Rohn
We are social animals that have evolved to be in relationship. From a very young age the healthy development of our own brain requires interactions. Loneliness has now been proven to be a risk factor for diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimers. In order to flourish we need to feel connected to others. Mindfulness, can deepen and enrich our relationships as we bring a quality of present moment attention to the people around us.
It connects us to a sense of inner contentment.
Many of us can get caught up in the hedonic treadmill, constantly needing stimulus from the outside world to give us a hit of happiness and pleasure.
Whether it is money, relationships, approval, or success, this kind of happiness is dependant on external factors which are transient and over which we have no control. There is another form of wellbeing and happiness, eudaimonic happiness, first explored by Aristotle. This type of happiness and flourishing is not dependant on external circumstances but rather emerges from an inner sense of wellbeing and a living in alignment with ones values.
Mindfulness is a practice which can help us cultivate a sense of inner wellbeing which allows us to feel content and well without needing to obtain anything from the outside world. It’s a rare feeling in this age of consumerism but it is available to all of us at any moment.
It enhances our overall sense of gratitude.
The practice of mindfulness helps us to slow down even if just for a few moments and reconnect with what is happening from moment to moment. This slowing down enables us to notice more of what is present both in our environment and within ourselves. As we notice more of what is happening around us and within us, wonder and gratitude can spontaneously emerge.
Whether it’s being more present to the tastes of a home cooked meal or connecting with something as simple and miraculous as the breath, mindfulness can infuse our lives with gratitude and enhance our appreciation of the ordinary things which can so often pass by unnoticed.
Learn the skills of mindfulness by joining the global mindfulness movement and registering to take part in Mindful in May. Learn how to meditate with thousands from around the world whilst raising money to bring clean, safe drinking water to the developing world.
Author: Elise Bialylew
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: via the author