Ever heard the expression ‘Monkey Mind’? As a description of the stressed, untrained mind I find it very evocative. The practice of meditation is the oldest mind training skill we known of. Mindfulness Meditation in particular is very effective in reducing stress by increasing our focus of attention on the present moment and so encouraging our innate calmness and clarity of mind flourish. This is true whether we are practising a narrow focus on mindfulness such as our breathing or the taste of our food, or whether we are in broad focus such as clouds or a landscape. Any non-judgemental mental state in the present moment (rather than the past or future) will have this effect. This resulting calmness and clarity will be of great assistance in responding skilfully to the stresses in our lives.
Historically, Mindfulness Meditation is based upon Four Foundations:
Mindfulness of the Body:
An awareness of posture, breathing and other sensations that we experience as we live in our bodies from day-to-day. We would advise increasing your awareness of mindfulness of the body by deliberate practice of mindfulness in sitting, standing and walking. There is no need to sit in any particular pose – meditation exercises can include walking, standing (my favourite), sitting and even lying down.
Mindfulness of Feelings:
Every day we experience an assortment of pleasant and unpleasant situations that give rise to related sensations in our minds and bodies. We can learn to use our increased awareness to navigate the broad range of circumstances and feelings that arise for us each day. The skill we learn is to be the observer, not getting tangled up in reacting rather than responding in a considered way. This simplifies our lives, and leads to more balanced, calmer days.
Mindfulness of Mind:
Similarly to sensations and feelings, thoughts and emotions are mental activities that many find somehow out of control or inescapable. So, the key is simply to change our relationship to them – observe them, become the witness. As soon as we put our mindful attention on them, we see them as transient, in the same way as the weather or moods are transient. In a very short time, this simple skill removes much of their power over us, leaving us calmer, less fearful, and less in need of any particular outcome in our lives while stll living our lives to the full.
Mindfulness of Mind Objects:
Through our senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, our mind interprets the world around us. However, mind itself is a sense. Can you touch or see a legal entity, like a limited company, or a concept such as ownership? Remember the world is made up of what our many senses, including the mind, offer us as objects for us to give meaning and relative importance to. Once we start to see the world as it really is, having rid ourselves of many of the fears, anxieties and false attachments that we have grown up with, the world becomes a very different place and our own perception of our happiness becomes much stronger as our natural, joyful state re-emerges.
So, developing your mindfulness practice, please be sure to develop each of the four foundations in whatever order suits you, but do notice when you are mindful of each and grow your ability to move betewwn the four foundations at will.