All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. Blaise Pascal
The 2nd Fundamental Habit
Your mind may be your most important asset. Moving your body, doing your job, loving your family, playing a game, preparing a meal, everything that you do requires your mind to engage, plan, direct.
Scientific studies show that mindfulness boosts your immune system, increases positive emotions, decreases depression and anxiety, grows additional gray matter inside your brain, improves your ability to focus and complete tasks, fosters compassion and altruism making people more likely to help others, and enhances relationships and feelings of intimacy.
A calm, focused, and strong mind improves nearly every aspect of your life, so taking care of your mind is truly an act of generosity towards yourself, and that’s why Mindfulness is the 2nd fundamental habit to Living Generously.
You can think of mindfulness as exercise for the brain. Unlike exercising the body which requires exertion, exercising the mind requires stillness.
Meditation is one mindfulness tool that is fundamental to taking care of your mind. I love how Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, describes meditation. He says that meditation is “about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly — witnessing it coming and going — without judgment, but with a relaxed, focus mind.”
While there are many different types of meditation, if you’re not already meditating on a regular basis, keep it nice and simple. Try a simple breathing meditation for just a minute or two a day. In a simple breathing meditation, all you have to do is sit still and observe your breath as it goes in and out of your lungs, without changing your breathing. Don’t push or force your breathing, or try to make it deeper. Simply observe your breath. If other thoughts creep into your mind, and they will, simply acknowledge the thought, then resume your focus on your breathing.
As you begin your practice, start small. One or two minutes a day, and when you’re doing that regularly, go up to five minutes. When you’ve got 5 minutes down, add 5 more minutes. The focus is creating the meditation habit and to create the meditation habit you just have to meditate every day. Did you get your butt on the meditation cushion today? Then you’ve succeeded. It’s that simple. You can meditate for as long as you’d like, but I think 20 minutes is probably sufficient for those with busy schedules.
Forget about getting results from meditation or doing meditation right. Meditation is not about achieving a state of mind or emotion. It’s a practice. In fact, you are practicing three important skills when you meditate. First, you are practicing allowing. Whatever you’re feeling and thinking is ok. You’re not judging it. You’re not hiding it or forcing it down so you don’t feel it. Whatever is, is. Second, and just as importantly, you are practicing staying. You are no longer blown about on the stormy winds of your emotions. Instead, you can stand in the eye of the storm and witness them. You can feel them and yet not have to do anything about them. Third, you are experiencing the impermanence of your thoughts, emotions, and physical body. Your emotions, your aches and pains, your heart aches, your fears, even your own body are temporary and in constant flux. By observing your emotional and physical state, you realize this truth and it gives you the wisdom to experience pain without suffering.
Allowing, staying, and experiencing impermanence creates mental and emotional space in your life to feel whole, to feel others, and to show up even when life is tough, scary, or heartbreaking.
Meditation is just one of the tools that helps you practice allowing, staying, and experiencing impermanence, but mindfulness can be experienced and strengthened at any moment throughout the day.
Let’s take for example, the experience of being hungry. Your mind, if left to its own devices, may or may not even notice there are sensations in the stomach. Your mind might just notice that according to the clock, it’s lunch time which might start it thinking about what you had for lunch yesterday and what you’ll be having for dinner tonight, then it’s moved on to what you need to do this afternoon. So you hustle off grab something to eat, because you really need to be back at your desk in 10 minutes.
On the other hand, being hungry is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Instead of eating just because it’s lunch time. You notice that your brain is telling you it’s time to eat lunch. You notice sensations that you’re feeling in your stomach, and think, “Yes, I may be hungry”. Then you reflect on the thoughts and emotions those sensations in your stomach have triggered in your brain. Being hungry isn’t good or bad. It just is. Finally, you choose to eat when it is and what is necessary to take care of your body.
Mindfulness is simple, really. It’s just noticing each thought, feeling, body sensation, and surrounding environment in the moment as you’re experiencing it without judging it as good or bad. Every moment and experience give you an opportunity to practice mindfulness and improve the quality of your mind.
Mindfulness is a habit you that will help you become the person you want to be and have the impact on the world you want to have.
Do you meditate on a regular basis? Leave a comment sharing your best tips for meditating.