Mindfulness is paying attention, with open, curious interest, to what is happening within and around us, with the intention of responding wisely to our experience.
By practicing the skill of bringing our mind, gently and with curiosity, to what is happening in this moment, again and again, we can help strengthen the muscle of mindfulness. We begin by paying attention internally to our body and breath, which are always in the present moment, and then extend this presence to all of our experiences. As we become more aware of ourselves internally, including our mental and emotional patterns, we can work with these patterns skillfully to cultivate peace and happiness in our lives, and learn how to navigate challenging experiences with more balance.
Physiologically, this simple act of mindfulness interrupts the stress reaction cycle in our bodies, by calming the amygdala and other areas of our brain that contribute to the reactivity. It also activates the prefrontal cortex and other parts of our brain that are responsible for emotional resilience, balance, compassion. By paying attention to the body, we can help calm both the mind and the emotions. We can be more present for the pleasant times in our lives, and steadier in the difficult ones. Mindfulness creates a pause, from which wisdom and new ways of responding can develop naturally, as an innate capacity within each of us.
Deep within the practise of mindfulness is the practise of kindness, and also compassion. As we begin to bring our non-judgemental attention to our experiences, we begin to befriend ourselves, the way our closest friend might befriend us, with compassion and unconditional acceptance. We begin to be a kind presence in our own lives, seeing clearly how things are, with gentleness. Within this relationship of kind acceptance, a space opens up for wise discernment and wise response and choice to arise. Sometimes this rises on its own, and we surprise ourselves. Other times, our clear seeing helps us to make a conscious choice about how to respond to our experience. This way of paying attention can transform our experience of ourselves, the moment, our relationships, and our whole lives.
Meditation as an act of love Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, or to redeem yourself. Rather do it as an act of love, as a deep warm friendship to yourself. In this way there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead, see meditation as an act of love. - Bob Sharples