Mindfulness

Health Courses->Consciousness Hygiene->Mindfulness

Practice Continuous Mindfulness
Every Possible Waking Moment 

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different….  
No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded…they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.
                                                                        William James

In how much of your life do you really feel ALIVE? Vitality surging through every part of your being? Most of us only have rare occasions of being in touch with this throbbing Life Energy, in large part, because it can only be felt in the present moment. And we do not live our lives there. We are so frequently caught up in past hurts, unconscious wounds, semi-sweet memories or future fears, rehearsals of unknown encounters, and improbable hopes designed to keep us from feeling the pain in our lives or the overwhelming vastness of the Universe we inhabit.

Daily mindfulness practices may be the most important of all consciousness practices to help us touch the deepest and truest perception of reality. It is a lifelong practice that only becomes easy after years of very diligent mind training. And the work begins by WAKING UP each moment to the here and now. Not indulging in illusory past memories or future fantasies but present moment reality, WHATEVER THAT MAY BE…pain, pleasure, boredom, ecstasy, in-breath, out-breath….

Keeping attentive in every possible waking moment is not easy. The mind does not cooperate easily with this task, but the more it is practiced the easier it becomes until it unfolds automatically. Initially, it is usually wise to practice being aware of body sensations since this felt-sense of ourselves is always accessible. Some traditions use the continual monitoring of breath as we do our daily chores. Sometimes body touch points can be used also as reminders such as where our hands touch a pencil or book, our feet touching the floor, or our buttocks touching the chair. Some try to keep an undistracted awareness of the arms and legs in general. You can try several methods and see how they feel. It is best to choose one for long-term practice and use the others for a periodic change for a short time. Use the mindfulness guides in this lesson for deeper investigation.

In Buddhist practice there are four traditional objects of mindfulness. The first is awareness of body senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Awareness of the body is a good practice to learn how to be in the here and now since our bodies are right here and now all the time. Whenever you hear something notice that there is hearing. Whenever you taste something notice that there is tasting, and so on.

The second field of what we can be aware of are feelings of pleasantness, unpleasantness or neutrality. We usually move automatically toward or away from many experiences in each day. Bringing these elements of unconscious activity into the light of awareness gives us a better understanding of the grasping and avoidance nature of our personality. It is the perfect aid to help us be attentive to our personality’s reactivity. Since the personality gets its power and juice from reactivity, being more attentive to this element can help dissolve much of the personality’s conditioned stranglehold on our mind’s development.

The third factor of mindfulness that we can be attentive to during the day’s activities is mental and emotional states. Various thoughts, anger, joy, greed, love, boredom arise moment to moment out of the circumstances of our lives. If we watch closely we will see that it is just a passing display of mental activity with no real separate entity directing the show. This can be an important gateway toward greater clarity of perception.

The fourth field of mindfulness is that of one’s mental contents and the function of mental states as it relates to our identity. Traditionally in Buddhist practice, it is an observation of hindrances to being awake, how our personalities become attached, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and the Four Noble Truths.

As you can see there is plenty of food for mindfulness practice in every moment of the day. The more we are awake in our lives the more we can allow the unfoldment of our fullest potential.

Resources:

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

A Guide to Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindful Magazine


Websites:

Thich Nhat Hanh:  Thich Nhat Hanh

Community for Mindful Living: Plum Village  plumvillage.org

Homework

Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature,
a unique action of the total universe.
                                                      Alan Watts

Begin the practice of daily mindfulness. Infuse each day with as much awareness and attention as possible. Remember, this is a lifelong practice with many fluctuations in degrees of awareness and unconscious automaticity. Notice how thinking, reading and talking are some of the most difficult times to be mindful and present. When we find ourselves off in the past or future gently return to the present moment. (That is not to say that we can’t set aside time to plan for future events. We just want to do that consciously and deliberately.)

For the novice it may be helpful to set aside one day or one week and just focus on being mindful of a single element in our experience. For example, during week one whenever you discover in the course of the day that you have lost track of yourself in the present moment gently come back and bring the next three breaths into your relaxed awareness. Then see how long you can continue with your activities while still remaining aware of your breath. During the next week focus on being aware of whenever you experience a pleasant feeling. Note when it arises, how long it stays, and when it disappears. The third week can be noticing when an unpleasant feeling arises, lingers and then passes away. (Much can be learned about the flavors of pleasantness and unpleasantness, the causes for their appearance and what makes them disappear.) During another week one can focus on whenever the futuring or planning mind takes grasp.

Sometimes we will notice when these events occur near the time of occurrence but in the beginning it is often the case that if we set aside some time at the end of the day for a review of what we experienced we will discover that many instances of what we were suppose to be attentive to that week slipped by our perception and we only discovered them upon later reflection. That is okay. With practice mindfulness shortens the time between when we actually experience something and when we witness it.

The more advanced meditator will want to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s guides for mindfulness as continued experiments in being present. Some use periodic mindfulness alarms such as a sports watch with a countdown timer that beeps every so-many minutes as a cue to be alert.

For the most serious of practitioners being CONTINUOUSLY present is one of the most powerful and highly regarded practices available. Eventually, when one is not present it will feel like a loss and so the motivation to be awake is strengthened. Even having your witness-self present during much of one’s sleep often occurs with deep practice. A good question to ask is: “when is it most difficult to be present?” Then, “why is that?”

Mindfulness Research

Mindfulness elevates mood and soothes anxiety in this review of over 3 dozen studies on 1,000+ patients.
“The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 78, Issue 2, April 2010, pages 169-183.

Mindfulness diminishes aging effects on the brain.  Those that practice long-term mindfulness have larger brains, healthier nerve connections and less nerve deterioration than non-practitioners of mindfulness.
“The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation.” Neuroimage, Vol. 45, Issue 3, April 15, 2009, pages 672-678.

Mindfulness practice improves brain structures in two months.  Measurable improvements in brain modules associated with learning, memory, empathy, and stress found after eight weeks of mindfulness training.
“Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional brain gray matter density”, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Vol. 191, January 30 2011, pages 36-43.

Mindfulness improves decision making.
“Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators …” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49. doi: 10.3389/finis.2011.00049

Mindfulness reduces adverse effects of stress by changing the structure of the amygdale in the brain.
“Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale”, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pages 11-17.

Mindfulness improves brain and antibody immune responses to stress.
“Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation”, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65:564-570 (2003)

Mindfulness enhances attention, mood, visual-spatial processing, working memory and cognition.
“Mindfulness meditation improves cognition” Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 19, Issue 2, June 2010, pages 597-605

Mindfulness reduces Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms by 50%.
“Exposure and mindfulness based therapy for irritable bowel syndrome” Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, Sept 2010: 41 (3): 185-90