A healthy mind is a flourishing mind. According to Corey Keyes, a “flourishing” researcher, individuals require high levels of emotional, psychological and social well-being. This includes feeling good about ourselves and our lives, accepting what cannot be changed, moving through life with a sense of autonomy, purpose and wonder, having positive relationships, knowing love and feeling integrated with the whole. (Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 207-222.)
Changing our relationship with stress and bringing self-care strategies, that really work, into our lives are foundational to a healthy mind.
People often ask us for practical ways to reduce stress. There are many ways to reduce stress, for example - one can go on vacation, take a walk in the forest, go to the gym, have a healthy sex life. Anything we do that helps relieve stress is important. That said, if we aren't addressing our own reactivity to stressful situations, going on vacation for a week is merely a temporary reprieve. To understand how we tend to perpetuate our own stress and our reactions to stressors we must understand ourselves - mindfulness meditation practice helps us get there.
By far the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. The relationship with ourselves is also the foundation on which we build all other relationships. The outside world is a projection of the inside world.
Mindfulness helps us become aware of what is happening in the mind and body. When we shine the light of awareness on our inner world we are in a better position to break the cycle of reactivity. This cycle is often based on experiences we have had in the past and may not have anything to do with what is happening in this moment. Without awareness we allow our thoughts to carry us to places that do not exist in this moment such as the past and the future. We identify ourselves with regrets of the past and fears of the future. Unobserved thoughts lead to delusions and illusions of the mind. These unobserved thoughts can cause tremendous suffering. For example, feelings of depression often arise from dwelling in the past and feelings of anxiety often arise from thinking about and fearing the future.
The only reality we ever have exists only in the here and the now. Only this moment is real. This precious moment is the restful place of no-thing and the vantage point of every-thing.
Mindfulness meditation trains the mind to bring awareness to the here and the now.
John Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness meditation is:
“It is the awareness that emerges though paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
Awareness means bringing attention to what is happening in this moment. Where is the mind? What is happening in the body? Is the mind engaged in thinking of a meeting tomorrow or perhaps feeling badly about something that happened in the past? With the intention to bring awareness to this moment we can begin to observe the workings of the mind. Instead of being controlled by our thoughts we begin to see them for what they are, just thoughts, fleeting, sometimes stuck. When we bring mindfulness to the current moment we see what we need is already here, in this moment, including choice. We begin to see with more clarity and insight.
Between the stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness. - Steven Covey
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful practice that can indeed transform the quality of health care, education and workplace environments. Teaching MBSR must come out of one`s own practice and experience if it is to truly be a catalyst for other people`s growth and development. (S.F. Santorelli, J.K. Zinn, 2012, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Professional Education and Training)
There is a vastly growing body of research about the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation, how it decreases stress, decreases symptomology of disease, decreases pain, changes the way the brain works, increases brain size, makes us smarter and more compassionate, etc... Not only can meditation help with chronic illness, it can change the way we are in the world.
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