I talk and write about meditation and mindfulness, yet I don’t think I’ve ever defined them in a Seedlings post. So before I talk about why, here’s my attempt to define ‘what’.
I’ll start with a basic factoid: Meditation and mindfulness are about the placement of attention.
Here are definitions that work for me:
Meditation is: the formalized practice of meeting present moment experience with openness,
willingness and curiosity. In other words, paying attention to what’s happening, right now, in this moment, without judgement. That’s as glamorous as it gets.
Mindfulness is: meditation in action—taking that non-judgemental, present moment awareness from the pillow (or chair) and applying it in your day to day life.
Our attention is always on something. The trick is to notice where our attention is so that we can decide if it’s serving us to keep it there.
For example: each time I write a blog, and before I push send, I think of all the reasons it’ll be a bust—bad grammar, stupid typo, boring content, I’ll offend someone—and in the space of seconds my brain dumps a bunch of stress hormones and my body gets all jacked up on cortisol and adrenaline with nowhere to discharge it.
And then I remember to breathe. The kind of belly breath I talked about in an earlier post. And because I’ve been practicing that way of breathing for a while even when I don’t need it, when I DO need it, it comes pretty easily. Before I know it I’m back on planet earth where the fate of my world doesn’t rest on one blog.
That is the mind that we’re dealing with. A mind that makes up stories about everything. That’s why I meditate and why I work at being mindful throughout my day.
The primary thing that’s changed for me with the practice of mindfulness is an increasing awareness of just how nuts many of my thoughts are. I’ve learned that when I really see them for what they are, I just don’t believe ‘em or take them as seriously as I used to. Which means I don’t act out of them and create as many problems for myself.
People have lots of ideas about what meditation is and why to do it—a way to get blissed out, or enlightened, or more healthy, reduce stress or blood pressure, or become nicer, more loving or peaceful, or all of the above. And all of those things may or may not be true for you guys if you have, or start, a practice.
For me, it was simpler than that. I wanted to find a way to make the most of what seemed to me a very, very short life span, and to find an answer to ‘what the hell am I doing with my life’? It’s about managing my mind so that I can more fully enjoy my life.
I suppose that in some ways I remain as neurotic as I’ve ever been. Meditation hasn’t made me into someone else, someone better. What’s different is that I’m much more aware when I’m being neurotic and can make better decisions than I used to make.
Seeing our thoughts gives us the freedom to choose how we’ll respond to them. Ideally, we respond based on our values, not on blind acceptance of some random thought that is a hangover from a comment that was planted by our third grade teacher who was having a bad day and told us we were stupid, or not creative, or selfish…
Love the idea of walking down the street and everyone I pass has a word bubble over their head, including me, that outs everything we’re thinking. Then maybe we’d stop taking our thoughts so seriously!
Would love to hear about what meditation or mindfulness practices you’re using in your day-to-day life, so please do leave a comment.