Meditation is not limited to the practice of monks sitting silently in Tibetan caves. Unrelated to religion or culture, meditation is an everyday kind of consciousness that all human beings, from time to time experience quite naturally. By tapping into this natural ability, meditation helps the mind stay focused on the realities of the present moment. Attention to one's own mind in mindfulness meditation practice, if undertaken on a regular basis, can heighten mental clarity, hone intelligence, and promote emotional stability. However, only a small percentage of the population practices meditation or knows much about it.
It is ironic that people dash through life trying to figure things out, furrowing their brows in deep concentration and boring their minds like laser beams into making decisions without ever wondering what "mind" is in the first place. Western societies have bypassed what Eastern cultures have taken for granted for thousands of years: An examined mind provides rich lessons and valuable personal insights. Why aren't we more curious about these minds of ours, which are solely responsible for every single decision we make?
Dictionary.com defines "mind" as: "the element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc." While it has been scientifically determined that such cognitive processes occur in the brain, the exact location of "mind" has not been found. Rather, mind can be looked at as the mediator between incoming stimuli, and the choices big and small that we make as a result. By setting aside a period of time each day to meditate, as little as five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night -- a mere fraction of the time taken for a typical exercise session, we could change our lives for the better. Over time, as the mind slows down, choices become more clear, and wisdom grows.
Practicing mindful meditation is a shortcut to realizing happiness, too, because all of a sudden we have a keener understanding of how the mind actually works. Meditation, like watching the rhythm of ocean waves, is nothing more than focusing attention on the natural flow of the mind itself, allowing a person to develop an intimate relationship with his or her own reasoning, thinking, feeling, willing, perceiving, judging, etc. Through this closer relationship -- fostered by learning to mindfully attend to life rather than emotionally react to it -- a person can eventually replace chaotic states of confusion and conflict with mindful consideration and measured response.
Life is changing so rapidly, it is all we can do to keep up. Yet, in what might be a counter-intuitive approach, slowing down the mind through meditation and learning how to focus more efficaciously on the task at hand, whatever it might be, could prove to be a critical tool in today's competitive marketplace. What stands out more in an employee than clarity of mind and self-awareness? Competition for the limited number of job opportunities, and the daily pressure of unending to-do lists, can lead to dangerously high levels of stress.
Through the production of the hormone cortisol chronic stress can lead to an array of health problems from heart disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and some cancers, to depression and anxiety. Clinical studies show, however, that a regular meditation practice can decrease such health concerns by reducing cortisol, and increasing the body's ability to produce hormones like endorphins, melatonin, and DHEA, associated with improved immune response and feelings of pleasure (National Institutes of Health, Office of Alternative Medicine, 1994 Omnibus 25-Year Report on Meditation).
Learning how to meditate is a smart and mindful choice. By adding the practice to a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition, adequate sleep, and daily exercise, mindfulness meditation has the potential to become an important tool, contributing to clear thinking, emotional balance, and a positive state of mind.
A mindfulness meditation moment:
Find a chair where you can sit alone, quietly for a few moments. Place one hand on your heart, the other on your belly. Gently close your eyes. Bring awareness to your breath. Coordinate body and mind as you feel your chest slowly rise with the in-breath, and fall with the out-breath; feel your belly gently expand with the in-breath, and contract with the out-breath. Breathe in and out in this unhurried way for a couple of minutes. Calmly open your eyes. Take a moment. When ready, proceed with your day.
Use as needed.
Please check with your doctor or psychologist before undertaking physical or mental training exercises.
A version of this blog was originally published on hometownlife.com.