I’ve recently had the occasion to write a few words about mindfulness meditation.
In this post I will add a few words.
I attended an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course at the Meditation for Health medical clinic in Toronto in 2004.
It took me over a decade of daily meditation, between 20 and 40 minutes per day, before I began to gain a measure of proficiency in practising mindfulness for more than a few seconds at a time, during the course of my everyday life.
I learned how to apply mindfulness in my everyday life on my own, by trying things out, and by setting aside time each day to focus in a relaxed and effortless way on bringing my attention back to the present moment, as I went about my day, whatever I was doing.
I’m sure other people can figure out how to practise mindfulness, as a part of everyday life, much more quickly than I have been able to do. Perhaps for some people, it would take longer than it has taken for me. I can only speak of my own anecdotal experience. I claim no expertise whatever, regarding any subject. If you listen closely to me, you will be lead astray.
Driving a car with attention on the road ahead
Many analogies are possible, to provide a sense of what mindfulness entails. I like to think of it as akin to driving a car with full attention of the roadway in front of me, with glances at the rear-view and side-view mirrors, as I’m driving down the road.
That’s in contrast to proceeding down the road in an autopilot kind of way, where my thoughts are elsewhere, and the features of the roadway in front of me, and whatever may be visible in the side-view and rear-view mirrors, may or may register for me.
I’ve had the occasion to experience both kinds of driving, in the course of my life.
I took an MBSR course out of a sense of desperation. I have the sense that desperation is a good source of motivation, with regard to the learning mindfulness meditation, in the current era in which we live. In my case, had I not been feeling a sense of urgency about the matter, I would not have embarked upon such a pursuit. I was a experiencing some stress reactions that I could sense would have destroyed my health in the long run. I didn’t know if an MBSR course would help me, by way of addressing the matter that was of concern to me, but I was keen to find out.
I’ve explained at other blog posts that the MBSR course, and my application of what I learned in the course, in the months and years that followed, has enabled me to address the stress-related responses that were a concern for me in the years when I was working as an elementary school teacher. Things have turned out much better than expected. I speak of this is terms of quantitative, hard data as well as qualitative, vague and wooly soft data.
Some things that have stayed in mind from the course
Here are some things that have stayed in mind, from the eight-week MBSR course that I completed in 2004:
- I recall that in a pre-course interview, which had the purpose of making sure each potential client was really a good fit for the course, it was noted that I looked like the kind of person who likes to take notes all the time, and to plan my next step in whatever project I happened to be embarked upon. I was told: “Leave those things on hold, while you are meditating.” That was a perceptive observation, because that matter, of a mind that is always focusing on planning and deciding, is most certainly a particular challenge that arises when I meditate.
- Don’t ‘broadcast’ your gains. This is especially important at the beginning, when a parson is starting out on a meditation practice. Boasting about your growing prowess as it related to mindfulness, as with any other skill that you may be learning, isn’t going to be very helpful for you because it will distract you from what you are meant to be focusing upon.
- Intention matters. I recall at the start of the course, it was recommended that we have a clear concept of what we seek to achieve. My intention had to do with the development of equanimity. Having the intention, from the outset, was very helpful. It’s been very helpful to have had the intention, right from the start. Good intentions matter, and proverbs to the contrary do not need to be listened to. The proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is true, and is not true.
- Spending your time reading about meditation is fun but it’s not the same as meditating. Don’t spend all your time reading.
- Another concept that I came across, indirectly as a result of the MBSR course that I took, was the concept that “I am not my thoughts.”
A Q & A sums it up, for me
Q: All sensory cues serve to bring me back to what?
A: To the present moment.
Q: Is it really possible to attain more than a second or two of contact with the present moment, at a time?
A: With proper prior instruction, and with practice, yes. Otherwise, maybe not. In fact, very clever and intelligent people will tell you that it’s impossible to be mindful for more than a second or two at a time. I recall reading such an assertion in a psychology textbook 40 years ago, and I still come across clever experts in a wide range of disciplines who repeat the conclusion even now.