Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mindfulness: A Simple Tool for Calming the Mind

Last week, we talked about anger, and how when we view it as a form of suffering, we more easily find compassion for ourselves and others. This week, I wanted to discuss the practice of mindfulness, which is a simple and powerful tool virtually anyone can use to tap into the peace and compassion within.

Mindfulness is when we notice or observe what's going on (in our mind or in our environment), without judgment or resistance. Thich Nhat Hahn, the great Buddhist teacher, breaks it down for us in this way:

1.  The first function of mindfulness is to recognize, not fight.  Our breathing anchors us into the present moment as well as into our body and soul. Breathing in, we say: "I acknowledge that anger (despair, jealousy, etc.) has manifested in me.” Breathing out, we say: "I will take good care of you.” This is how we apply compassion to our place of suffering.

2.  Once we have recognized our anger (despair, jealousy, etc.), we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness, and it feels like a breath of fresh air. Instead of fighting or trying to manipulate, we are honoring our humanness and taking care of our emotion. Paradoxically, when we allow an emotion to be there, it changes, relaxes.

3.  The third function of mindfulness is to soothe or relieve. The emotion is still there, but it is being taken care of. The situation is no longer in chaos. Order is restored.

Mindfulness is not only for use in crisis intervention. In fact, the regular practice of mindfulness, or observing without judgment, creates the conditions for a more peaceful, balanced mind. Does everyone desire this? Maybe not---some people really enjoy their drama!---but I’m sure most of us would like to have a tool available for when we want to calm down and find relief from our own (and other people’s) “monkey minds.”

This week, I ask you to find an opportunity to apply the practice of mindfulness, ideally, when you have a few minutes of quiet and solitude. And remember to breathe, as this is key.

Have a peaceful week.