When I tell my colleagues (who also strive to manage their personal and professional stress) that meditation and mindfulness saved me, they oftentimes give me puzzled looks. The questions that follow include these: how do you meditate? Meditation -- what's that?
I admit that I, too, once felt perplexed by the subject. I had heard the terms "mindfulness" and "meditation" used in the occasional yoga class that I had attended in the past, but I did not have a firm understanding of what the two terms meant.
I was curious, and so I attended a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. My explanations for the terms are probably quite personal by now as my experiences with them have helped me define them. Considering this general disclaimer, this is how I would define both:
Meditation: Breathing into, through, and with the present moment.
Mindfulness: Being aware of the present moment.
These basic, personal definitions are the ones that I share with my inquisitive colleagues, but their questions never end there. The conversation always develops into storytelling, which leads to connection. Their questions and experiences have led me to write about meditation and mindfulness so that perhaps by understanding it, they might practice it for themselves.
My definitions are simple because the practices are simple, and I want people to know this: you do not have to be good at meditation or practicing mindfulness. Meditation involves watching the mind. It means nothing more than breathing in and out, and focusing on the breath to remain in the present moment. The result is minimizing future distractions or preoccupations as well as past fears or anxieties. Mindfulness means practicing awareness of the action or inaction of the moment at hand. For example, mindfulness means paying attention to the outline of the pine trees that you pass alongside the road as you drive to work. It means acknowledging the beautiful interwoven colors of a summer sunset. Or it could mean focusing on the squeezing of the bicep muscle during the contraction phase of a curl. For me, meditation is breathing, and mindfulness is awareness and acceptance.
Mindfulness and meditation help me slow down, become aware of my tendency to react, and reassess what is in fact a proper response to whatever circumstances face me in a moment. Simply being aware that a certain situation is causing you anxiety helps stop the racing thoughts and urges you to reexamine what the best response might be. Usually, it is not the one you would have chosen had you not allowed mindfulness to interrupt your ingrained thought patterns. A better response could await you. If you simply pay attention and notice what your first thought was, a second, different thought might replace it if you practice this interruption of cascading, anxious thoughts to keep them from becoming a torrent of negativity.
So how can you practice mindfulness and meditation? I recommend starting with five deep breaths: inhale and exhale five times slowly. Notice the rise of your chest on each in breath and the fall of your chest on each out breath. Or, become curious about the cool air passing through your nostrils on the in breath and the puff of air that escapes them on the out breath.
Be curious. Pay attention. Notice your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and accept them just as they are. Breathe through these feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and repeat this process for as long as you desire. Even five deep breaths can re-center you and set you up to experience a calmer next moment to increase mental and emotional clarity for any situation.
© 2016 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.
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