The pursuit of happiness is an idea deeply embedded in the American psyche, stretching back to the Declaration of Independence. But the idea of happiness is often distorted in our culture. We are told that happiness is about getting things. The right job, the nicest home, the best car, the perfect partner, etc. Yet lasting happiness isn’t about these things. It’s about how we experience our lives internally; it’s about how we respond to the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions of our daily existence. Mindfulness practice points to the very real possibility that happiness is a skill that can be trained. Whether we train ourselves in an 8-week class in mindfulness-based stress reduction, or in our daily sitting practice, opening to the experience of the present moment – no matter what it contains – allows us to digest experiences while letting go of the stories we tell about them. This capacity to allow things to be as they are leads to more ease, peace, balance, well-being, and a sense of the richness of our lives – surely qualities that we can include in any definition of happiness.
An interesting piece from the Huffington Post. Apparently, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of backlash against mindfulness. But there’s no disputing the science.
“Despite the marketing of mindfulness as the latest hobby of the one percent, when it comes to the benefits of a meditation practice, the science is incontrovertible. A growing body of research unequivocally shows that a regular meditation practice is not only risk-free, but highly beneficial to the mind and body. Meditation has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, boost focus and improve sleep quality, among other benefits. And in just eight weeks, a meditation practice can create measurable brain changes in areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.”
Full article is here.
“A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators.”
Mindfulness is an act of self-care that gives us the space to feel what we are feeling and to know clearly how we are. The practice of mindfulness is simple, but it is far from easy. What we often discover when we pay attention in the present moment is our own pain and sadness and anxiety, our unhealthy habits of thinking and reacting, and our mind’s tendency to revert to auto-pilot mode. But as our practice deepens, we discover ways to be more fully present and awake for all our experiences, even the painful ones, in a way that puts us in alignment with life instead of in opposition to it. Even in the midst of a serious crisis, in the midst of heartbreak and fear, practicing mindfulness can help us live our life with more ease, flexibility, responsiveness, and wisdom.
Ed Brown, No Measuring Up
Now I take the time to peel potatoes,
wash lettuce and boil beets,
to scrub floors, clean sinks, and empty trash.
Absorbed in the everyday,
I find time to unbind, unwind,
to invite the whole body, mind,
breath, thought, and wild impulse to join,
to bask in the task.
No time lost thinking that somewhere else is better.
No time lost imagining getting more elsewhere.
No way to tell this moment does not measure up.
Hand me the spatula: now is the time to taste what is.
Demystifying Mindfulness: The Raisin Exercise
Take a raisin and look at it closely like you’ve never seen one before. Notice its shape, texture, color, smell, sound, the light reflecting off it, the feel of it as you roll it between your fingers. Take your time. Linger as you inspect the raisin. Reflect on all the conditions that brought you this raisin today – conditions of light and water and earth and time, of all the people that touched it in some way. Then, place it in your mouth, feel it rest on your tongue for a moment, then slowly, with awareness, chew, notice, taste. Savor.