What is mindful meditation anyway?

I recently read two works by Jay Michaelson. 

He incorporates a great deal of mindfulness and meditation within his writings. He is a Jewish scholar (who will be speaking tonight)  but the moment you read his books you realize that he purports an all encompassing approach to life.  He takes multiple theories and combines them together for a realistic understanding of spirituality, mindfulness, and even meditation.

So here is the interesting thing, I was talking with a friend of mine and he spends a lot of time considering the science of mindfulness/meditation.  And he expressed something really important, that there was going to be a grouping of people that is going to discuss the definition of mindfulness.

I think within popular culture we have some sort of hippie/granola/floaty idea of mindfulness and meditation. In fact, in my line of work the words are pretty interchangeable.  I know that when I took the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Courses at UW    I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into.

I knew that I had some basic idea of meditation, felt I was pretty open to whatever it means to be less stressful, and that I wanted to use those ideas to help clients with anxiety.  And so week after week, I sat there listening, learning, feeling, and meditating. It was hard. It was nothing and everything about transcendence. The actual practice of meditation (and/or mindfulness) is becoming aware of the moment and present within it and that often can start with paying attention to your breathing patterns. It can really be that simple. Of course,  it is much more than that once you get started.

I am a rather logical rational sort and also high-strung. I was skeptical about how sitting quietly and breathing would really help much of anything.  And at first, it actually made my life more stressful. I was busy worrying about if I was thinking too much, feeling it right, what to do if my foot fell asleep, wondering why I felt bored or really upset or really relaxed.  And I kept going, without a lot of understanding (although they have tons of science to back it all up) and just experienced– this is often the point anyway.

For someone like me, making the time to breathe, allow my thoughts and emotions to move past me and not judge/act on them is pretty difficult. However, taking that time helps me focus, feel more at ease, and get perspective.  I can’t explain it all but I know from experience that it is hard sitting with myself and letting whatever comes up be real. Yet this very process is crucial.

This is what I ask of clients all the time. To just sit with their emotions and let them exist.  That they can be present with themselves and not on autopilot. That they can experience their life fully in a present way and make choices according to their values. And a part of this comes from what Jay Michaelson says in one of his books:

If you’re meditating only until you feel like getting up, then in a sense you are not meditating at all. Because the point of meditating is to see clearly whatever arises — including the strong desire to stop, the doubt that it’s working, and the surprising moments of insight and revelation.

Feeling can be uncomfortable AND that is alright. One doesn’t need to run away from feeling lonely, sad, or scared. You can learn to allow your emotional responses to exist and learn from them. They are part of your fullness as a human being and the whole range can be experienced in a healthy way.

And so I’m happily heading to the Manifesting the Mind conference this week to further look into how the mind/body works together. There will be discussions on mindfulness and meditation and if you are not already aware, we have wonderful local experts in the field like Dr. Richard Davidson presenting.

Just in case you are still unsure about all this … I encourage you to try it for yourself. Just sit still for a few moments, breathe in and out slowly, and if your mind drifts just come back to focusing on breathing in and out.  Do it for as long as you can and then just for experiment sake… check in to see how you feel!  I’ll bet you feel a bit calmer…. at the very least you can feel good that you reduced your stress level in a cheap and easy way!

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