What’s all this talk about consciousness and mindfulness?
As I said in my last blog, consciousness is what we see, hear, taste, and touch. It is our emotions, desires, intentions, beliefs, reactions, judgements, and reasoning. Our consciousness is this stream of thoughts that constantly runs through each of our minds. My consciousness is who I am.
Meditation, repackaged as mindfulness, is an ancient method to clean up consciousness, a goal of all religions. In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, the reason to meditate is to clear the mind to make room for God, Being, or Buddha Nature.
Literally thousands of articles, books, and posts attest to more immediate benefits of mindfulness. These benefits include reduction of anxiety, stress, depression, and emotional reactivity, as well as increase in working memory, cognitive flexibility, compassion, and quality of relationships.
So exactly what is mindfulness? Also called meditation, it calls for one to be still, to observe one’s thoughts, and to let go of these thoughts, good and bad, and come to a peaceful state of mind. This practice decreases the power of negative thoughts.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a student of the famous Zen master Thich Nhat Kahn, stripped meditation of any whiff of religion and introduced it to the American public mindfulness. His 2006 bestselling book, Full Catastrophe Living; How to Cope with Stress, Pain, and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation, opened widespread public awareness. Today Amazon lists 101 pages of titles on Mindfulness.
It’s free, all you need is your brain. You can do it anywhere. Information and classes abound. So why isn’t everyone doing it? For various reasons, we find it difficult to observe and let go of our thoughts.
It may be hard to accept that we can separate ourselves from our thoughts. Negative thoughts may be hard to acknowledge although all human beings, even saints, have them. Several years ago when I was teaching comparative religion, I brought up the idea that meditation, in different forms, was common to all religions. A young woman objected saying that meditation was not a good idea because it was an opening for the devil, all these bad thoughts tempted one to action.
On the other hand, some people may treasure negative thoughts such as anger and hatred, but these eat away at our essence. One does not have to hate to defend one’s cause.
Others say mindfulness is boring. In a way it is and in a way it isn’t. If you are continually in a hurry, the next task, the next event, the next pleasure or the next worry, stress, anxiety, just sitting will seem boring.
However, if you want to decrease you worries, stress, and anxiety, you can become interested in the content of your own consciousness, what do you think about, what are your patterns of unhappiness. Then it becomes interesting.
But it is hard to get out of the way. We just have to face it. It is difficult to watch your thoughts and then learn to guide them gently out of range.
You need to find your motivation to do this, to call yourself back when distracted by yet another stream of thought be it wonderful, terrible, or mundane. Gradually you will establish habit and with habit comes control of your thoughts.
For some people stress, pain, or illness is enough motivation to persevere. For others, dissatisfaction with unhappinesss can be the motive. Still others may see it as a step on the spiritual path.
It would help if you can believe it will work. So go read the articles.