Reduce Our Stress Through Mindfulness-Part One

What is Mindfulness?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Pattakos 2008, viii). -Viktor Frankl

Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment. It can be brought to any situation. Put simply, mindfulness consists of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now. While mindfulness as a practice is historically rooted in ancient Buddhist meditative disciplines, it’s also a universal practice that anyone can benefit from. And indeed, being present and mindful is an important concept in many spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism. In Sanskrit, it’s known as smrti, from the root word smr, meaning “to remember,” and in Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist scriptures, it’s known as sati (mindfulness).

Today, mindfulness has expanded beyond its spiritual roots and even beyond psychology and mental and emotional well-being. Physicians are prescribing training in mindfulness practice to help people deal with stress, pain, and illness. Mindfulness has entered the mainstream in the West and is exerting an influence in a wide variety of contexts, including medicine, neuroscience, psychology, education, and business. As an indicator of its popularization, it has even made an appearance in the blockbuster film Star Wars, with just one example being Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn telling the novice Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Be mindful!”

In the words of Walpola Rahula, author of the Buddhist classic What the Buddha Taught, “[Mindfulness] is simply observing, watching, examining. You are not a judge but a scientist” (1974, 73). You can certainly apply this approach to sensory information and the world around you, and in this book we’ll guide you in practices that do just that. However, some of the greatest benefits of mindfulness come from examining your mental processes in this way, observing them dispassionately, as a scientist would. Because this allows great insight into habitual ways of thinking, it has a profound power to alleviate stress and suffering.

After beginning her mindfulness practice, a psychologist friend once remarked that observing her mind revealed it had two modes of operation: either rehearsing or rehashing her life. Before she began observing her thoughts, she hadn’t realized how busy her mind was and how often she wasn’t present for what was happening in the moment. She said, “Can you imagine if we could bottle all the rehearsing and rehashing we do? We wouldn’t have an energy crisis.” We’ve told this story often in our mindfulness classes, and many people nod, laugh, and acknowledge their own compulsion to rehearse and rehash. Yet the present moment is the only place where life may be fully lived. Herein lies one of the greatest benefits of mindfulness: helping us live in the here and now—and helping us become more aware of ourselves.

It is stunning to read these words of St. Augustine written over 1,600 years ago: “Men go forth to marvel at the heights of mountains and the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the orbits of the stars, and yet they neglect to marvel at themselves” (2002, 180). While many things have changed since St. Augustine’s time, clearly some things haven’t. How can it be that all of these centuries later, we still so seldom marvel at ourselves? This is a poignant reminder that it’s part of the human condition to tend to lose touch with the wonder or mysteries of life.

An all too common example in Western culture is getting so caught up in the material world that we forget about love, compassion, and generosity. The antidote is mindfulness: a simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment observation of the mind-body process through calm and focused awareness without judgment. As you come to see life as a process of constant change, you can begin to acknowledge all aspects of experience—pleasure and pain, fear and joy—with less stress and more balance.

Because mindfulness can serve as a powerful vehicle for greater understanding of the psyche and the causes of suffering, it’s an effective path to ending suffering. The ancient Buddhist text the Dhammapada says, “Mind is the forerunner of all…conditions. Mind is chief; and they are mind-made” (Thera 2004, 1). This profound statement makes it obvious that paying attention to, or being mindful of, your own mind is of paramount importance. It is said that intention is the crux of all actions—that our intentions shape our thoughts, words, and deeds. If the intentions are wholesome, the results will be fruitful and skillful. Conversely, if the intentions are unwholesome, the results will be unfruitful and unskillful. In this way, our minds, through our intentions and thoughts, are the creators of our own happiness and unhappiness.

Read over the following progression a couple of times and take a moment to reflect on it: 1. Intentionshapesourthoughtsandwords.
2. Thoughts and words mold our actions.
3. Thoughts, words, and actions shape our behaviors.

4. Behaviorssculptourbodilyexpressions.
5. Bodilyexpressionsfashionourcharacter.
6. Ourcharacterhardensintowhatwelooklike.

You may be familiar with this line of thinking in the form of the saying that by the time people turn fifty, they get the face they deserve. In either case, this is an interesting insight into one of the many ways the mind directly affects the body.

The information in this post is directly provided from the Workbook- “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook By Bob Stahl, PH.D and Elisha Goldstein, PH.D


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