The power of mindfulness is that it can literally sever the link between negative thoughts and negative emotions.” Barbara Fredrickson, Phd
Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that has been handed down for millennia. Buddhism is both a historic spiritual tradition and a philosophy of life. Working with what is, the practice aims to the practitioner into a full experience of the present moment. For most of us, any given moment is so flooded with our perceptions, thoughts and judgments about what is happening that we often miss the actual event. So accustomed to the noise and chatter that our mind relentlessly produces we often can not differentiate the events of our lives from our personal spin on it.
Jon Kabat Zinn was one of the first medical practitioners to adapt this practice and introduce it to western medicine in the early 1980’s. His hospital adaptation called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) defined the practice for the western mind thus: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Its like learning to watch yourself thinking. By stepping back and finding comfort as a self observer you gain the skill to watch the content of your thoughts calmly and with out the need to react.
This practice is skill based which means that we all have the internal capacity for it, and that it requires practice. Mindfulness actually creates more space and time in your brain. You are not lead by every passing thought- with time, the practice instills a grace period where you can watch a thought enter, take shape and leave your mind, much like a cloud formation moving through the sky.
Since the 80’s, extensive research has confirmed multiple physical and mental health benefits with the practice of mindfulness meditations. Everything from depression, chronic pain, anxiety and stress is reduced and immune functioning and healing in all areas is increased. Not only that, but the practice of mindfulness actually changes the brain itself. It decreases the circuitry linked with negativity and increases the circuits linked with positivity.
The developing science of neuroplasticity demonstrates that our brain is continuously growing and adapting. Training ourselves in skills that can harness this growth only makes sense if you are on a positivity quest. Learning to bear witness to our thoughts gives you a few moments to experience the feelings that automatically turn on with them. They are distinct experiences and ones that we have the capacity to choose and control for ourselves.
Most programs run for eight weeks. This is the time that it takes most people to see a consistent benefit and have enough imbedded practice that they can make a practice of their own. Mindfulness programs are available in most communities and there are an abundance of digital medial available to learn the technique. It is a basic building block to freeing yourself from the chains that bind you. I am on day 21 of my own practice, and can see the changes happening in my processing and reaction time. There are places that still need more practice though- like with my teenagers.
Originally published in 2010