Being mindful

I began doing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis late last year. The key idea behind this kind of meditation is to simply notice without judgement the thoughts and feelings arising within your body and your mind.

It sounds easy enough, but in practice I have found it challenging to do it even just for ten minutes, and I’m only just now beginning to understand the positive impact that being mindful can have on my daily life.

Dan Harris, the Nightline tv show anchor who is also behind the production of the meditation teaching app 10% Happier, provides this example of what mindfulness is:

We are all getting carried away with the voices in our head every day. We’re checking our phone in the middle of conversations with our children, we’re eating when we’re not hungry, we’re losing our temper or getting annoyed, etc. These are all examples of mindless behaviour.

The antidote to this behaviour is mindfulness, which is the ability to see what is going on inside our minds without getting carried away by it.

Now, imagine you are in traffic, and someone cuts you off. How does that situation usually go for you inside your head? For most of us, it goes something like this:

I’M PISSED!

In the instant that the thought occurs, you reflexively inhabit it, and the next thing you know you are pissed. The key point being that this all happened on automatic, using a firmly entrenched pattern of thoughts that you conditioned yourself to have a long time ago.

With some exercising of your ‘mindfulness muscle’ through the practice of meditation, you can short-circuit this mindless reaction and the situation could well go differently. Dan provides this colourful more self-enlightened internal dialogue:

My heart is thumping, my ears are burning, I’m having a starburst of righteous thought. Wow, I’m getting pissed!

Now that you’ve noticed what is going on, you don’t have to act on the thought and fly into full-blown road rage with your kids sitting in the back seat. You can respond appropriately (or perhaps even not at all), rather than reacting.

Some of you may think that the end goal here is to meditate oneself into being a completely non-reactive person who never gets upset about anything. Nope, that’s not it.

What I’m saying is that by learning to be mindful, you can make an appropriate choice about how to respond in any given situation. There are going to be occasions where it may well be appropriate to raise your voice to get your point across. Likewise there will be times where you can take a pause, and respond in a calm and measured way.

Being mindful is a learned skill, and it takes practice to build the ‘mental muscle’ to be able to use it well. The more you use it, the more benefits you will gain.