Lessons from Mindfulness

Lessons from Mindfulness

Mindfulness finding peace in a frantic world is an excellent book for people interested in getting started with mindfulness practice. I did already practice meditation daily for more than a year so I didn’t follow the entire structured program but rather complemented my practice. So either way you will benefit from this book.

The book wants to help you leading a happy and joyful existence by using techniques of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. This program is developed by Oxford professor Mark Williams and his colleagues. Here are some things I learned from this book. Some things or most of them all of us likely experienced at some point in our lives.

You can’t always think yourself out of every problem

Most of us function on autopilot during most of the time of the day. We get so used to our daily routines and our habits that we don’t pay attention to details. Psychologist Daniel Simons did several experiments on this. In one experiment he had an actor stopping ordinary people on the streets and ask them for directions. While that was happening, two people carried a door rudely barged between the actor and  the test person. The moment the view of the actor was blocked by the door; the actor was switched with another. The new actor looked totally different, his outfit was of a different style and color, and he sounded different. Yet only around half the people questioned actually noticed the switch. This is just one example of how little mindful most of us are.

The autopilot has its use, it helps us free up mental resources. But this accumulation of automatic behavior can easily grow out of control. That’s where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness is there to notice what is happening. By being more mindful we can break out of negative patterns and focus on what matters.

When our autopilot becomes overloaded with too many thoughts, memories, anxieties and tasks, it is easy to become overwhelmed and chronically dissatisfied with life. At this point it is difficult to think our way out of the problem. Thinking is like opening yet another program on an overloaded computer. Instead, we need to step outside the cycle almost as soon as we notice it’s begun. That is an important step to learn to deal with life more skillfully.

None of us can control what thoughts rampage through our minds, but we do have some control over how we relate to them.

Any difficulties that arise in your meditation practice, you can view them as allies

One of the best lessons I learned for my meditation came from the book Sit like a buddha. I used to get very frustrated if I wasn’t able to get a “perfect” or “good” meditation session. I’m sure everyone that tried to meditate can relate to the feeling you get if your thoughts just keep exploding while you try to imitate a monk like you know from those pics on the Internet, lol. Sit like a Buddha thought me to see that frustration as ally. Truth is, it is the perfect opportunity to train self-kindness.

Any mind-wandering, restlessness or boredom that arises can be acknowledged as allies of your attention training.

Once you learn that every meditation session is a success, your practice will radically improve. You can’t do it wrong, that’s the amazing realization. You’ll start looking forward to every session and in time, you will enjoy your practice, not only the benefits that come with it.

The aim of meditation is not to control the mind any more than it is to clear it. These are happy by-products of meditation, not the aims.

The rumor mill

Often we interpret the world in a non-beneficial way. We think things are bad when in reality, most of the negativity comes from our own constant internal commentary on the events we encounter.

We think the situation itself aroused our feelings and emotions when, in fact, it was our interpretation of the scene that did this.  

Our commentary happens so fast and is so automatic that we seldom even question or notice it. That commentary is the rumor mill. Trying to fight our commentary is not very productive as you may have noticed.

Instead of confronting the mind’s rumor mill with logic and “positive thinking,” it makes far more sense to step outside the endless cycle and just watch the thoughts unfold in all their fevered beauty.

I know that there are many rumors on the internet or any news source, so naturally when I read something, I don’t automatically give much importance to it. So why should it be any different with the rumors of my mind?

When you get distracted while meditating, just focus on your breath again, that is essentially what the practice consists of. An experienced meditator is not someone whose mind does not wander, but one who gets very used to beginning again.

Meditation is a simple practice that gains its power from repetition.

Productivity and meditation

I’ve noticed that after days of a lot of meditation, my productivity was much higher the next day. I’m just much more present which enables me to “be in the zone” in whatever activity I participate in. Studies found similar things. We think that if we rush through the day, we will get a lot of things done but this is far from the truth. This was just a side-note not taken from the book.

Taking the gas out of the aversion system

We often try to avoid difficult emotions and thoughts, but what if we would just observe them? Studies have shown that if meditation practitioners just left them on their mental workbench, soon their relationship to these emotions changed. They took the steam out of the spiral by avoiding the mental aversion system from kicking in. Whenever you are stressed up about something try this next time, just let the emotion or thought be whatever it is, don’t try to change it or push it away. See what happens.

Overgeneral  memory makes see things incorrectly

Researcher have found that if we experienced traumatic events in the past, or if we are depressed or exhausted, our memory tends to work differently. Instead of retrieving specific events, our memory retrieves a summary of events instead. That’s what psychologists call overgeneral memory. Our worldview may get progressively black and white. We think that everything is just always screwed. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, remember this. Research has found that just eight weeks of mindfulness training makes memory more specific and less overgeneral. Imagine if you maintain a constant practice beyond just eight weeks!

How to better deal with difficult emotions

It can be very difficult to take action and do the things you want if you are in a bad mood. Taking time to rebalance your life can help you see negative thoughts as mental propaganda that prevents you from at least testing if the propaganda is true or not.

Usually we are motivated to do something, then we do it. But when our mood is low we have to do something before the motivation comes. Put action first, and see how your motivations change after a while.

You could do something pleasurable, or something that gives you satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Or you could just practice being mindful.

Tiny actions can fundamentally alter your relationship to the world for the better.

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Also published on Medium.