What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness Practice?
That's a great question. Let's elaborate on the benefits of mindfulness practice. But first I would like to take a moment to make sure everyone understands what mindfulness is.
In mindfulness practice you give attention to your meditation object, just like in meditation. The meditation object can be your breathing or the sensations in your body, just to mention a couple of techniques. It's true to say that the differences between mindfulness and meditation are small.
To be mindful means that part of your attention, not necessarily all of it, is given to your meditation object. For example your breathing.
Another way of defining mindfulness is to say that the mind is not completely caught up in thinking. In other words, part of your attention is aware of your meditation object. That is mindfulness, to be aware of your meditation object as opposed to be lost in thinking.
You can also view mindfulness as an anchor that keeps the mind from drifting.Mindfulness Benefits
With some practice, you will experience the benefits of mindfulness for yourself. Don't expect to master it overnight though. You have to invest time and effort in order to harvest the fruits of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is known to be very calming. When you are mindful you can feel subtle inner stillness deep within. Eckhart Tolle which is a well-known spiritual teacher refers to that stillness as spaciousness. The sensation of mindfulness feels like an expansion, as if you were creating a field of stillness around you.
Spaciousness or soothing stillness is one of the many benefits of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is more soothing to the body and mind than a spa treatment. Every cell in the body changes its vibration when you're mindful.
Since stress is thought created, it cannot arise while you're mindful.
Another benefit is that it's easier to concentrate or focus when you are mindful. You won't get distracted as easily either. That is especially helpful when studying or working. Both mindfulness and meditation practices promotes concentration.
Let me give you quite a different example of the benefits of mindfulness practice. Many years ago, I stayed at a Zen monastery in Sweden where we practiced meditation for about five hours per day. As a result, my mind was quite focused and calm.
I was really curious about Tibetan Buddhism back then, so one day I bicycled from the Zen monastery to a nearby Tibetan retreat center. The small temple was really quiet, there were just two people staying there. The long-term resident was a woman in her fifties and the guy was in his late teens.
Neither one of them were really practicing meditation while at the center. They were basically just looking after the place. As it were, the young man was really critical of Zen Buddhism, which was the tradition I followed at the time. He went on about how Tibetan Buddhism was superior to Zen.
Normally, that kind of negativity would have worked me up and made me really defensive. But my focused mind didn't react emotionally to what he said. I didn't get upset or angry. It was as if I had transcended my emotions. Yet, I was clearly aware of what he was on about.
I knew he wasn't practicing much meditation and as a result he was not mindful. So, I was quite happy to be kind and understanding of his unskillful ways.
What is more unpleasant than negativity and anger?
My point is that mindfulness practice leads to patience. It naturally makes you patient as opposed to irritable or angry. This is another beautiful benefit of mindfulness. That very patience and warmth spread like ripples on water, benefiting everyone you meet.When To Practice Mindfulness
There is one key benefit to mindfulness practice that I would like to point out, which has to do with time.
The first ten years or so as a meditator, I spent a lot of time meditating on a chair or on the floor. I refer to that as formal meditation practice, which means you only do one thing at the time, in this case meditate.
If you're really dedicated, you can easily spend 3-4 hours on daily meditation practice. That's perfectly fine, it's a really good investment. I encourage you to meditate a lot, as long as you have the time and motivation.
One of the benefits of mindfulness practice is that you can do other things while practicing. Mindfulness practice lends itself very well to multitasking. Thanks to that, your practice can be become part of your daily routines.
You can be mindful while washing the dishes, while taking a shower or doing laundry. While eating, reading or listening to meditation talks.
You can also be mindful while listening to a friend or while walking in nature. You can even be mindful while working or operating machinery. Mindfulness practice opens up endless possibilities.
Another plus is that tedious tasks become meaningful when you're mindful. It's a possibility to combine business and pleasure, if you like.
The trick to successful mindfulness practice is to understand that unlike meditation where you give full attention to your meditation object, in mindfulness practice, you only give part of your attention to your meditation object.
For example, if you're walking in busy city streets, it's important to pay attention to what's going on around you so you won't get run over by a vehicle. You have to look around you to make sure it's safe to walk along your path.
Therefore, a lot of attention goes to observing your surroundings and also balancing your body as you walk. The rest of your attention can be given to your meditation object. Even if that's only 5-10% of your attention, it's quality practice.
Ideally, you should never completely let go of your meditation object.
That clearly explains why mindfulness practice generally isn't as deep as formal meditation. Because of the many distractions. Often times, you have no choice but to give more attention to what's going on around you than to your meditation object.
I would like to add that whenever you're mindful for several hours in a row, your mental state deepens. You know that your practice is deep, when you feel calm and the concentration is steadfast. Another gage is awareness of higher levels of mental energy in your body.Progress In Mindfulness Practice
Finally, a few words about progress in mindfulness practice. You shouldn't expect to be able to do all of the above from the start. It's more inspiring to look at those benefits as the fruits of mindfulness practice. Moreover, to achieve that level of proficiency could be a healthy goal for any meditator.
In the beginning, it's easier to practice mindfulness when you sit on a chair or on the floor, like when you meditate. You can even lie down on your back which makes it easier to relax your body and mind. Regardless of your body posture, make sure you are as comfortable as possible.
Now, it's easier to practice when you only do one thing at the time. So, stay with your breathing, give attention to the sensations in your palms or to any other bodily feelings.
As you gain more experience, you will be able to continuously give part of your attention to the meditation object while doing other things.
One pointer that is most helpful is to slow down. The more slowly you do things, the easier it is to be mindful. For example, if you're raking leafs in the garden, rake slowly while giving relaxed attention to your meditation object. Don't try too hard. That would only build up physical and mental tension.
When you eat mindfully, eat more slowly than you normally do. That makes it a lot easier.
Also carefully select the time and place where you practice. The fewer distractions you are exposed to, the better. Staying in a monastery, ashram or at a meditation center allows you to practice in a peaceful environment for long periods of time. Such as a week, a month or even longer. Those are the ultimate places to get established in mindfulness.
The better you get at mindfulness, the deeper it will take you. In the end, there won't be much difference between formal meditation in the forest and mindfulness practice in a bustling city.
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