A Note on Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

There’s a fundamental truth behind our experience of life: It’s not what happens out there in the world that shapes our lives, but what happens in here, between our ears! The great spiritual teachers have been saying this for millennia, and today quantum physicists are saying the same. In essence, when you take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, you are on the way to taking charge of your life.

Mindfulness is about being aware (1) that how and what we think matters, and (2) of what we think, feel, say and do in every moment, and how it impacts on us.

It is especially important to be aware of our thoughts and feelings in response to events, especially the automatic thoughts that occur when facing difficulties and setbacks. Thoughts of despair, helplessness, hopelessness, self pity and so on are inherently self-defeating. Most of these arise from our childhood programming and are destined to be repeated for the rest of our lives unless steps are taken to change them.

Understanding the Mind

What is this thing called ‘mind’? Unlike the brain, it’s not a physical thing. It’s an activity. It can’t be seen or weighed, but we know it’s there: we are aware of it and can observe it in action. Part of us knows we’re thinking, and can watch the thoughts passing through the mind. Moreover, another part of us is aware that we can observe ourselves observing our thoughts!

There are many levels of awareness within the mind. At any moment, there are things of which we are aware, things we could bring to mind if we wanted (such as what we did yesterday or last week), and other material which lies much deeper – e.g. childhood memories. We can classify these into certain categories:

  • The conscious mind: the part of the mind that we are aware of right now. It is, in effect, a stream of thoughts, a never ending inner dialogue. We are only ever aware of a tiny percentage (probably less than 1%) of our mental activity.
  • The material just below the surface is often referred to as the subconscious (or preconscious). These are the memories which are easily recalled when we need them, such as a telephone number or the items on a shopping list.
  • The remainder (more than 99%) lies beneath the immediate threshold of awareness. This is the unconscious, a storehouse of memories, dreams, instincts, habits and drives, knowledge, dreams, habits, experiences and emotions. Although we call it the unconscious, all unconscious material can potentially be being brought into consciousness.

Accepting responsibility for our thinking

Most people are unaware of how powerful their thinking is and don’t realise they have it within their power to change. We cannot afford to fall into this trap, because we would be reducing our effectiveness if a set of unacknowledged ideas, beliefs or prejudices rules our lives.

Turning our thinking around begins with awareness. If we are unaware of our thinking patterns, then how can we change them?

Get into the habit of noticing what you are thinking and feeling moment by moment. Notice how you respond mentally and emotionally to people, situations and events. If some pattern needs to be changed, then change it (sometimes professional help is needed with this).

Remember – no-one else chooses your thoughts for you. Thinking is something you do by, for and to yourself, and your thoughts impact on the way you feel. Moreover, your behaviour is largely governed by the way you think, so the more mindful you are, the more empowered you will be.

Exercise

Every so often, pause. Break off from whatever you’re doing and be still. Sit comfortably and become aware of your thoughts. What are you thinking? Why are you thinking that thought? Where does it come from? Where is it taking you?

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 17.11.2016

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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention to what you are doing and being aware of your thoughts and feelings right now.

When you practise mindfulness, everyday activities become more meaningful and enjoyable – even eating a chocolate is more pleasurable when you give it your full attention.

In his book, ‘Zen and the Art of Archery,’ Eugen Herrigel describes how an archer with mindfulness becomes one with the bow and hits the centre of the target with every arrow. If you ask how he did it, he can’t put it into words. The same also applies to sports such as tennis and golf. Worry about your game and you’ll make mistakes, but if you master the core skills and then allow mindfulness to take over, you enter a state known as ‘the zone’ which is how champions perform at their peak.

Mindfulness is powerful. When you concentrate any form of energy, including mental and emotional energy, you intensify it. Pay full attention to what you are doing in each moment. If your mind wanders, slow your breathing and bring it back. After a while it becomes so automatic you don’t even have to think about it.

Mindfulness exercise

Choose ONE activity to do today with total mindfulness. Slow down and take your time. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back. When you’re sitting, be aware of the chair beneath you and how it feels to be supported by it; when driving, listen to the sound of the engine as you accelerate, decelerate and change gear; when eating notice how your jaw moves, the feeling of biting into your food and the combination of flavours.

Pay attention to the sights, sounds and sensations (inner and outer) as you wash, shave, walk. listen to music, do the gardening, wash up, wait at traffic lights etc.

Then reflect on what you have learned from this exercise.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 17.11.2016

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Meditate and be mindful

‘Meditate and be mindful, and all else will follow.’

 The Buddha

Meditation means ‘to focus one’s thoughts’, ‘give attention to’ or ‘engage in contemplation or reflection’. Anyone deep in thought is meditating. Whenever our thoughts are focused on a particular idea we enter a meditative state.

The biggest obstacle to entering this peaceful state is the busy mind, but with practice the mental chatter is subdued and even silenced.

Another obstacle is the intellect – the need to know, to think and to analyse. Meditation is not about getting results, nor is it ‘guided visualisation’. Meditation is simply controlled mental activity which leads to mental stillness.

The power that ultimately shapes and directs our lives is non-physical, i.e. spiritual. Only your spiritual, non-physical, self has the power to really think – not what superficially passes for thought (which is often nothing more than remembering or reacting to habits and old conditioning), but genuine creative and intuitive ‘thought’. This is the only way it can influence you, since it has no physical power. It is the source of your inner power – and meditation helps you make the connection.

Until now, if you are typical of most people, you have probably been so absorbed in your day to day thoughts and activities that you have not given much attention to this inner ‘something’, but if you want to become a fully functioning being and live life to the full, you must be in harmony, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

The Benefits of Meditation

 ‘All of man’s troubles arise from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’

 Blaise Pascal

In the West, meditation was once believed to be the preserve of gurus and mystics. It conjured up images of shaven-headed monks in brightly coloured robes sitting cross-legged on the floor. However, many people – including many business leaders and TV celebrities – have taken up meditation. They recognise that it’s vitally important for physical and emotional wellbeing to have some quiet time to yourself each day.

Calm

Health benefits

Meditation helps rejuvenate mind, body and spirit, so you can cope better with time pressures, the demands of others, and fatigue.  It puts you in charge of your own mind, frees you from past programming and conditioning, and detaches you from fears about the future.

An undisciplined mind is constantly at work, but its activity is largely aimless and unproductive. Restless thoughts come and go, frittering mental energy.

Using biofeedback and other equipment, Dr Herbert Benson, an American physiologist, found that meditation brings about many beneficial changes. In his book, ‘The Relaxation Response’, he described how he induced Alpha and deep Theta levels in his subjects and observed long-lasting health improvements.

  • Meditation helps to reduce stress-related health conditions, including headaches, gastric problems, muscular aches and pains, back and neck tension and immune system deficiencies such as hay fever and asthma.
  • People who meditate frequently have more energy and need less sleep. They are less prone to insomnia.
  • It relieves depression and helps with other emotional problems. Doctors who teach meditation find they reduce their prescribing of medication.
  • Research has also shown that regular meditation can slow down the aging process. Practitioners look and feel younger.
  • Meditation can also be a powerful tool to combat degenerative illness. E.g. cancer patients have achieved remission, and arthritis sufferers have reduced pain and swelling in their joints.

Revitalise

Performance enhancement

  • Sportsmen and women know the importance of a quiet mind if you want to achieve peak performance.
  • Students meditate to help them learn more efficiently, improve memory and cope better with examination stress.
  • Busy people who stay cool, calm and focussed perform better. Regular meditators can stand back from crises and see the bigger picture. They work better under pressure and find they can think more clearly.
  • Entertainers who meditate, including public speakers, feel more relaxed and at ease when performing.
  • It can also improve creativity by balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Emotional Benefits

With daily practice, meditation can help you to:

  • Become more even tempered, happier, less grumpy, less irritable, and more loving.
  • Build self-confidence and become more outgoing.
  • Discover a sense of freedom from ‘negative’ emotions, e.g. if you’re a parent, you’ll cope better with fractious youngsters and employees become less angry with a difficult boss.
  • Reflect on your experiences, make sense of them, and understand the lessons you need to learn.

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Spiritual benefits

Meditation puts you in touch with your Deepest Self. It helps you to gain self-knowledge, find guidance from within and develop a more harmonious relationship with the world around you. The skills are acquired gradually, but in time, meditation:

  • Brings calmness and stability to the world around you (it rubs off on other people).
  • Puts you in touch with yourself as a being of compassion, peace and love.
  • Brings you into awareness of a powerful inner guidance which helps you to develop your full potential.

Experienced practitioners often report a feeling of connectedness with all things when they meditate, as if all the boundaries which divide people from each other melt away. They feel part of a great universal whole – the ultimate state of bliss. And it is within the reach of everybody.

Whatever you want out of life, meditation can enable you to succeed. And it is not necessary to find a guru or pay huge sums for a mantra. The techniques are easily learned and you can practise in your own living room.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 20.6.2016

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