WORDS Joyce Man
We often search for deeper meanings in our lives as we attempt to discover our true identities. Where are we looking for these answers? We focus our attention so much on what is external to us that we often forget the answers lie within us. We become easily drawn by new technology and fashion fads to the point we can forget ourselves. Our emotions can fluctuate like a rollercoaster, reaching an intoxicated euphoric high one minute and dropping down in the depths of despair the next.
Why is it that we allow ourselves to react to what is external to us in this way only to realise this too late? How can we be more equanimous in the way we respond to both the good and the bad? Instead of being like a leaf in the air, being blown wherever the wind takes it, be like a tree, solid and grounded, always knowing its place on this earth. How do we become grounded you may ask? Know yourself. To know yourself, you must look within. How do we look within? Start with Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness is a practice originating from Buddhism some 2,500 years ago. The practice of moment-to-moment non-judgemental awareness has only begun to gain popularity in Western psychology in the last 30 years.
Being in the Present Moment
Often we do not live in the present moment. We can get stuck in the past by ruminating about problems, regretting things we have said or done or should have done or wish things could return to the way they were. In doing this, we can lose touch with what is happening around us at this very moment. By the time we realise that our mind has been somewhere else, the moment has already passed. Mindfulness allows us to live in the present, to embrace and accept whatever is happening right now. In doing so, not only do we learn to accept the world, we learn to accept ourselves for who we are. We cannot change our past, we cannot predict our future, but we can be in control of our present.
Anger, frustration and hurt often result from things that do not meet our expectations. By having the intention to accept whatever is happening in the present, this allows us to remain in control of our responses. How discomforting would it be to know that our feelings are at the mercy of external events which we have no control over! For example, rather than getting frustrated at being stuck in a traffic jam, we can accept that traffic jams are only natural and are bound to happen sometime or another. Getting upset won’t clear the traffic but we have control over how we respond to it.
Thoughts as neutral events – not reality
Mindfulness also helps one to develop “metacognition”, the ability to observe one’s own mental processes. Sometimes the thoughts and emotions we experience are so powerful that it becomes difficult to see otherwise. This makes it difficult for us to separate such thoughts and emotions from the experience of it. For example, a person’s sadness may be so strong they come to identify with the sadness. Instead of saying ‘I am having the feeling of sadness’, one may come to believe ‘I AM a sad person’. Thus, mindfulness teaches us to view our thoughts merely as mental events, thus separating oneself from one’s thoughts rather than automatically accepting them as reality.
Responding Rather than Reacting to Stress
By being mindful, this also teaches us to respond to stress in more healthy and adaptive ways. Rather than reacting automatically to stress, individuals learn to create a space between themselves and the stress, thus allowing one to choose how to respond rather than react to a stressful event. Often, the same things tend to trigger our stress reactions. Once this reaction begins, this makes it difficult to respond otherwise. Mindfulness enables us to create enough distance between ourselves and the stressful event so that we have the headspace to choose an alternative response.
Although the primary goal of mindfulness is not relaxation, feelings of relaxation can often come about. When one is relaxed, this activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thus optimising an individual’s ability to adopt the “stress response” rather than the “stress reaction” cycle during times of stress.
Like all new skills, mindfulness takes time to master. The best way to practise is by adopting a beginner’s mind: Doing your best and accepting whatever arises without expectations. In this way, whatever benefits you may gain will be a plus! It is in our nature to place judgement on all things and to think a lot unnecessarily. There is really no wrong way of doing mindfulness, just put your best effort into the practice. By committing to a daily practice (preferably 15-30 minutes of formal sitting meditation each day) you will find that mindfulness will become incorporated in your daily life.
[box_dark]MacBuddhi holds weekly meditation sessions from 4-5pm on Mondays this semester in the Boyd Room, Campus Hub. Fortnightly talks on Buddhist teachings are also held in the Boyd Room on Wednesdays from 11am to midday. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or join our Facebook group for more details.[/box_dark]