The way that we become more mindful is through continuous mindfulness practices. Many people assume that mindfulness meditation practice is about developing a peaceful or a blank mind, or getting the negative or wavering thought stream to shut up. But that only happens during very intensive retreat practice.
It is, however, about developing a more understanding and a different kind of relationship to our thoughts. So that we can observe them coming and going, accepting them without any judgment and not just believe in everything mindlessly or identify them so very much without any mindful thought.
Most people enter these meditation practices when they’re having a difficult time or if they facing uncertainties in life. And they secretly hope that mindfulness practices will get rid of the negative emotions and help them escape the pain.
The mindfulness meditation practices don’t work that way. Because while in practice, we feel our deep emotions, and even our pain and sorrow, more vividly. But because we don’t resist that pain or emotion, we end up suffering much less in return by accepting it for what it is.
Even though these meditation practices were refined by monks and nuns and other enunciates, they’re not actually about completely withdrawing from one’s life. We might take a little bit of time to step back and develop these mindful capacities. But they are for the core purpose of engaging and experiencing so much more richly and fully in life.
And even though, occasionally, we run up against the wonderful experiences of bliss or peace, they’re not really about seeking bliss or peace. They’re about learning to be with whatever might arise be completely okay with it.
Finally, even though we define these practices as “mindfulness meditation practices,” they’re mind and body practices altogether because they’re very much about feeling and noticing that all of our deep and personal experiences in consciousness occur from the mind-body more broadly.
Table of Contents
Under the umbrella of mindfulness meditation practices, there are three core skills that we’re going to try to develop throughout our practice:
- The first skill is focused attention, which is traditionally called concentration. And often it helps us observe things more deeply and clearly without judgments.
- The second core skill is what neurobiologists now define as open monitoring, which is often used to see how one’s mind creates suffering and negative thoughts for itself.
- Finally, the last skill is acceptance and loving-kindness, which is used to soothe and comfort.
Neurobiological evidence shows that the mental skills cultivated by these three different mindfulness meditation types represent overlapping yet distinct continuous brain processes. Most of these mindfulness meditation practices develop one or another of these three skills while we continue to practice mindfulness.
To become more mindful, one needs to consider these questions:
- During which moments of your day do you find yourself being completely mindful without any judgment and with peaceful acceptance? And similarly, when are you most mindless?
- Reflect on each moment deeply and closely in which your mind makes comparisons between your true self and others. What are the criteria it uses, or what are the areas your mind compares with other’s life? Which domains matter most to you in judging yourself and others (e.g., wealth, degrees, intelligence, their looks or fitness, social status, generosity, fame or popularity, or maybe spiritual attainment, etc.)?
Mindfulness practice allows us to be alone because solitude is important in relationships. We have to be comfortable with ourselves before we can ever be comfortable with other people.
The Effects of Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness meditation practices were developed in response to our complex and judgemental evolutionary predicament. They’re systematic methods for gaining deep insight into how the mind instinctually creates suffering for itself while making mindless judgments and comparisons.
Mindfulness meditation practices include techniques designed to interrupt these natural mindless processes of one’s mind. Of course, mindfulness meditation practices are not the only techniques or tools we human beings have developed to deal with our mindless thoughts and hardwired tendencies toward psychological distress.
For instance, many people have created tutorials and programs of positive thinking—affirmations of various sorts—to counteract our negativity and judgemental bias. And there are all sorts of psychotherapy designed to replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones.
Historically, diverse cultures have also developed a wide variety of religious solitons, beliefs, and rituals that can help us feel better, safer, and wanted in an uncertain world. Many studies have shown that all of these mindful approaches: such as positive thinking, religious belief and faith, and conventional psychotherapy—can enhance our sense of overall acceptance and well-being.
Mindfulness practices are another set of tools. They may be considered particularly far-reaching in their short term effect on well-being because they address two key challenges simultaneously:
- Firstly, they can provide profound insight into the patterns of mind that create suffering, radically changing our thoughts, emotions, and views of ourselves and others.
- And secondly, they retrain the brain to not automatically respond in its mindless instinctual and judgmental patterns.
What are some of the key insights into distress-generating patterns we get from a continuous mindfulness meditation practice?
We usually notice that we often relate to all experiences as either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. We see that we habitually try to hold on to the pleasant moments, push away the unpleasant experiences, and lose interest in the neutral ones. In return, this causes an inordinate amount of distress when paired with our negativity mindless bias.
We evolved to both expect unpleasant thoughts/experiences and to constantly work to try to avoid them while being mindfully present in the moment. Having these mindless tendencies coexist sets up a continuous tension and negativity for many of us that we often experience as feeling drained, stressed, and anxious much of the time.