Having taught mindfulness classes, I have discovered most participants mistake mindfulness as either: sitting on a chair or cushion in a quiet environment and to focus on one’s breath while trying not to move and emptying one’s mind, or, to pay exclusive attention to outer activities one at a time. There is the confusion that mindfulness is a form of formal meditation (sitting down in a quiet space with no disturbance) of calming the mind, which one then brings to outer activities like a boxer who uses concentration to focus on his opponent in a ring. So is there such a thing as mindfulness meditation?
Used to be considered a disrepute subject because it is a form of contemplation exercise taught by the Buddha to his disciples, mindfulness has grown in popularity thanks to a body of research and is taught in its secular form from Ivy-league schools to the U.S. Army, to combat post-traumatic stress disorder. Mindfulness meditation is not restricted to the cushion or the chair according to popular belief. Mindfulness is an active awareness of what is going on inside as well as on the outside. But without formal meditation, it is not possible to be able to practise mindfulness in a day filled with activities.
Meditation, where people sit with their backs straight on the cushion in a full or half lotus, is a practice for calming the mind. In formal meditation, our attention is being trained to be placed on an object – the most common object is that of the breath. Every time the mind strays to thoughts, we intentionally bring the mind’s attention back to the breath, but without yanking the mind’s attention violently to the object. Rather, the mind is trained to observe thoughts without entering them, and only when the thoughts have lost its momentum, is the attention gently invited back to the breath.
When attention has been sufficiently been trained to stay in the present with the body or breath, then there is the possibility for the meditator to practice mindfulness in daily life.
Mindfulness is a form of active meditation, where the practitioner is able to look at the types of feelings and thoughts driving his or her daily life experience. If you feel that you are stuck in a rut, or wondering why your life is a repetition of stress and tension, mindfulness is a way to help you understand what are the thoughts and feelings driving your inner experience in a never-ending repeated loop of stress or unease. Only when there is awareness of these thoughts and feelings, can there be a deep reflection on the cause of it in order for you to change it.
Although all of us are gifted with the free will to speak and act, very few of us have ever used it consciously. That is because behind our speech and action lies years of habits conditioned by our parents, school and societal values. Sometimes our decisions are made in opposition to our parents’ own habits which we disapprove of, and we continuously make decisions to live differently from what we disapprove or approve of.
This is not to say that mindfulness means a disrespect of cultural and societal values. But rather, we can circumvent whatever comes our way by understanding how we feel and think about situations, in order that we can change the way we have been reacting towards it, to bring a sense of calm and ease, as opposed to a life of stress and unease.
Happiness or calm is available every moment, there is no need to wait for the future to be happy. In fact, it could be because most of us delay our happiness and only decide to be happy when certain conditions are met, that there is stress in our daily lives. Without training in both meditation and mindfulness, the option of choosing well-being remains elusive.