A prediction of mindfulness, how strange? Annual predictions are a terrible business. I do not really think I can tell what will be important in the coming year. But seeing as this is my first year writing this blog, and I feel like there needs to be some way of commemorating the New Year, I figured I’ll play the game. I figure that if I see a trend already gaining momentum, it just might continue for some portion of the next 12 months. One big thing I see on the horizon is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is already becoming a very popular technique for relief of all sorts of discomforts. Its popularity is rooted in the growing popularity of Buddhist practices in America. Although I, personally, have some problems with the Buddhist part, mindfulness is actually a universal meditative process. Meditation is used in almost all religions as a way of lowering a person’s focus on self and the material world and heightening awareness of the spiritual. Although we presently call mindfulness “meditation” in Jewish meditative systems it is called a prerequisite to meditation.
There are a few basic techniques of mindfulness but they all utilize thinking about what is happening as if you are observing your “self”. Let’s say you want to begin by learning how to observe your own thinking (a very common place to start.) Most of us are aware that although thoughts are very difficult to control, they can be controlled with a bit of effort. We are also aware that there are several levels of thought. So, if I ask you, “what are you thinking about?” you might answer, “plans for the weekend,” or even, “I dunno. Just dreaming, I suppose.” In the first instance you were thinking about your thought, while in the second instance you were not thinking about your thoughts.
The simplest goal of beginning mindfulness is to cultivate the skill of thinking about your thoughts. To do this most people recommend choosing something to focus on and to pay attention to how well you are focusing. In this way, you can teach yourself mindfulness without having to pay any mind to the subject you are thinking about. Focus on an object (like a candle) or a word (used as a mantra) and just pay attention to how well your mind stays on subject. Don’t make it into a discipline, just take note of where your mind goes and gently coax it back into focus. With consistent practice it becomes easy.
With advanced mindfulness you begin to realize that all of your thoughts and perceptions can be seen as if from an observer’s viewpoint. That can even include pain and fear evoking situations. Wait a minute! That sounds very much like dissociation! The difference is that one is controlled and voluntary and the other in involuntary.
This idea, that advanced mindfulness is similar to dissociation, leads to a few fascinating conclusions. First, that mindfulness is a natural process under certain circumstances. Second, that dissociation is not necessarily bad. In fact, if used properly and in a controlled manner it can be healthful. (I first started working with people in this manner over ten years ago.)
Another important point is that mindfulness is not necessarily a religious practice, and definitely not only a Buddhist practice. You can use it to enhance your health, and maybe should try to integrate the practiceof mindfulness into your own belief system.
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