Mindfulness Practice Part 2
It was a crisp and clear October night as I set out to hear the second lecture in a series on Mindfulness Practice Meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA. He has been teaching mindfulness meditation to patients as a way to reduce stress and pain, cope with illness, and reduce anxiety for over 25 years. He was addressing the lecture hall on this night.
Kabat-Zinn explained that we as humans are not at our best when we are stressed. We are more susceptible to getting sick, as when we catch a cold, or get a sore throat. Our auto immune system is connected to our stress levels and if we can learn how to calm the mind, the body will be able to resist germs more efficiently. He pointed out that 95% of the budget at the National Institute of Health is focused on disease. He argued that science could do a better job looking at the positive health aspects of treatment.
In schools in our society, from a very young age, children are trained to think. Teachers ask children to answer questions and those who answer first get ahead. Those who take longer to answer, or need more wait time, tend to be screened as having difficulties or needing support. As a society, we push children’s minds to always be racing to the next stimulating thought. “When you get good at thinking then you get lost in your head,” Kabat-Zinn explained.
Coupled with this, children and adults in today’s society are “plugged in” and “turned on” all the time. We live in a “24/7 connectivity” society and we are breeding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the younger generation Kabat-Zinn argued. By always being stimulated by television, radio, video games, music, and movies, the mind has a harder time slowing down and living “in the moment.”
Kabat-Zinn made the analogy that when we are driving along in our car and we are listening to a radio news story, often our mind is not fully present on what the reporter is saying. We might be thinking of all the tasks that lay ahead of us or we might be reviewing the events that just took place in our lives before we got in the car. As a result of living in a “plugged in” society, when we drift back to listening to the news report, we subconsciously reach to hit the “rewind” button. But it is live radio, so we cannot!
Our minds have been trained to listen and think and reflect all at the same time because we can simply go back and review the original content at a later time. We have created multi-tasking minds. But as Kabat-Zinn points out, “Think any thought and hold it in awareness and it is just a thought. Neuroscientists don’t know what thoughts are.” When we multi-task like this we are ignoring the aspects of our lives that are happening right under our noses. In Buddhism, this is called suffering. Kabat-Zinn argued that real meditation is the art of living life from moment to moment.
How does a person cultivate this mindfulness living? As Kabat-Zinn explained, “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” When we sit in mindful contemplation for a few minutes, we are not fixating on the objects of our attention but the attending itself. When we “rest in the knowing of awareness,” he explained, then we are living a mindful life.
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE MEDITATION TIPS
1. Sit up tall and plant your feet firmly on the ground. This helps to cultivate a sense of purpose in the mind. It stays alert and focused more easily than if you were to slouch back in a chair.
2. Rest your hands comfortably in front of you. Place them folded in your lap or open with palms up on your knees. This helps to frame the body’s neurosignals to be active and paying attention.
3. When a thought arises, let it pass through the mind. Do not hold onto it but rather let it float by. If the mind drifts, gently call it back to the present moment, without judgment.
4. When we rest in the present moment, there is no time. No today, yesterday, tomorrow, only NOW.