Mindfulness and meditation show us the way to the place inside ourselves which orders our thoughts, creates health in the body, allows us to find better ways of functioning and relating in our daily lives, and ultimately leads us to a deeper sense of peace and healing.
I started to practice meditation some twenty-five years ago, and I’ve studied the different forms of meditation used in yoga, in the secular systems, and in the breath-centred mantra and guided meditations of the great religious traditions.
I first encountered mindfulness as a Buddhist practice, as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen monk and teacher. It is based on a form of meditation which can help you to become more aware of your mental processes and emotions. It does not attempt to eliminate all negative thinking, but to acknowledge and understand old patterns, while creating new, positive ones.
This brings a fresh sense of awareness that enables you to choose how to respond, instead of reacting to situations in an unconscious, automatic kind of way. It is a way of paying attention to what is really happening in your life, of seeing your life more clearly.
Mindfulness is a skill anyone can learn, and it can be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, medical and therapeutic.
MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) is widely used in the workplace to help individuals and teams deal with pressure and to work more effectively. It is also used to treat patients with stress and chronic pain related problems.
MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) is used to treat depression and anxiety related problems. Mindfulness programmes are now used in hospitals to assist patients suffering from a range of conditions from living with cancer to quitting smoking.
Mindfulness sessions are usually practiced in small groups, and include specific meditation practices to help participants to calm the mind and to respond more appropriately to thoughts and feelings. They are taught a series of techniques including a body scan exercise, sitting meditations, a walking meditation, gentle stretching and body awareness exercises, and a three-minute mindfulness meditation.
The greatest value in mindfulness is as a tool, one that can gently – but powerfully – put the individual in charge of their own wellness.