Doug J. Moore, Ph.D.
“Now”, a simple word that exemplifies the essence of mindfulness, is found in popular book titles such as, “Be Here Now” and “The Power of Now”. We lose track of the now as we get lost in all of the mindless doing or the reliving of the past and anticipation of the future. Our bodies are wired to react in habitual ways we learn throughout our lives. From the simplest acts of brushing our teeth to the more complex behaviors of speaking, writing, or driving a car, we can engage in these activities quite effectively while our mind is busy reviewing our to do list or a conversation we had yesterday that didn’t go very well.
Mindfulness is a process of returning home to the present moment, the only moment where life can be most fully experienced. We are frequently anticipating the future either in worry that it won’t go well or in hope that it will. Our energies and physiology get activated to protect us from some perceived danger, which makes us relentlessly anticipate and rehash unpleasant interactions from the past or anticipated future. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment, to fully experience what is occurring right now. Yet again our attention is pulled somewhere else that we may feel is more fulfilling or important.
Mindfulness is the process of returning again and again to the only moment there is, the moment at hand. A common practice is to return to an awareness of the breath, an act that has been shown to calm our nervous system. This constant cycle is why mindfulness is a practice, something that gets deeper, easier, and more rewarding over time. As we practice we learn to be more present and aware in whatever we are doing rather than just engaged in mindless activities.
Meditation is essentially a prolonged period of mindfulness. When we meditate for 1 to 20 minutes, there is a focal point, frequently the breath or a word repeated silently that we return to mindfully. That is, we immerse ourselves in watching the breath, notice when our mind wanders to an event, feeling, or thought, then gently acknowledge we have wandered and return to being with the breath. It is most skillful to not place any judgment on the fact that your mind has wandered.
The aim of meditation is to transform our minds from a meandering, scattered state to a more focused, structured, and peaceful state of being. Over time we enhance our ability to be fully awake to our own feelings, thoughts, and sensations in an accepting and present manner. In the practice of meditation we learn to fully accept non-judgmentally whatever may arise within us, thus providing our own compassionate healing environment that will help dissolve old wounds and reveal the loving, radiant heart that is at the center of us all.
As the mind becomes calmer it is helpful to switch types of meditation to being the awareness rather than focusing on an object of awareness. This shift facilitates meditation to be a way of being rather than just a tool to practice.
The meditation page on Thrive and Awaken® describes this in more detail and provides many examples to follow along with.
There is significant scientific research showing the positive effect of mindfulness and meditation on physical, emotional, and cognitive aspects of ourselves. The literature frequently talks about the importance of having a guide as you practice these methods. The practices can have both frustrating and profound effects, both of which can be balanced with the guidance of someone who is an experienced mediator. I’ve been meditating regularly for over 35 years and have taught many students in both group and individual settings. Although rooted in ancient religious traditions, meditation does not have to be associated with any religious beliefs. Consider either beginning or deepening into your own presence of Being with mindfulness and meditation.