How useful is mindfulness?
Through my own experience, as well as the experience of my clients, I have learned that although mindfulness and meditation is a powerful tool that helps us be more grounded (apart from other advantages), it is not a panacea for our difficulties and pain. Below I will sum up what mindfulness actually is, what its advantages are, and why it is sometimes difficult to practise it.
So, what is mindfulness?
Perhaps the most famous definition is the following one:
Mindfulness is paying attention to something in a particular way, on purpose and non-judgmentally. (John Kabat-Zinn, 2003)
The Tibetan word for mindfulness literally means to become familiar with.
And I dare to add... to become familiar with LIFE... So...
Practicing mindfulness is just practicing life.
While mindfulness can be practised in every moment of your life, meditation involves dedicating some time in the day to going 'inwards', moving away from 'doing' to 'being', moving to a different level of consciousness, and connecting with our core and energy that connects everything.
Mindfulness and meditation is NOT about attaining some enlightenment state, getting to a better place, escaping difficult emotions and feelings, or creating a special way of being. It is about realising that in every moment of your life you already are in a special way of being.
It is possible to practise mindfulness even without meditation, but meditation not only enhances our ability to be present, but it also integrates our brain, and leads to self-awareness and self-knowledge.
Mindfulness practice also leads to a better concentration, which consequently leads to a greater connection with others because we are able to give them our undivided attention.
The by-product of concentration is observation and observation allows us to recognise and accurately label thoughts and emotions, as well as to see the bigger picture.
Another by-product of concentration is the willpower to focus on what really matters to us. When we are not concentrating on what and who matters to us, we are allowing other things or people to dictate where our awareness goes and energy flows.
Furthermore, scientific research now explains how beneficial mindfulness meditation is for our brain, mind & body. Regular meditation leads to the brain integration and strengthening of the neural networks between our limbic system (the emotional centre in the middle of the brain) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain behind your forehead that is responsible for cognitive functioning like reasoning, planning, decision making, inhibition of emotions, the sense of self). Thus, meditation leads to the ability to respond to our emotions in an optimal way, it sharpens our attention, increases resilience to stress, improves mental health, increases compassion, and thus has a positive impact on our relationships. Furthermore, studies show that meditation positively affects the length of telomeres (the caps at the ends of our chromosomes that determine the length of our lifespan), and so it not only promotes well-being but also prolongs our life.
But, you might ask...
Are there any limitations?
For sure, especially at the beginning of a meditation and mindfulness practice. I have learned that when we are emotionally dysregulated, it is difficult to engage in meditation or in being mindful. Our mind wanders off to the same thoughts, and evokes the same difficult emotions and feelings. And no matter how much we try to quieten our mind, we continue drifting back to the same old thoughts and feelings.
So, how can we stop recycling old thoughts and feelings?
What I have found most useful so far are techniques used in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. The basis of IFS is to become familiar with our internal system that is comprised of the core self and many different parts - intact parts, protective parts and wounded parts. (I will soon upload a post with more information about IFS).
In my view, it is very difficult to override emotions and feelings with thoughts alone.
And the reason I find Internal Family Systems therapy helpful is that it is emotion-focused - it deals directly with emotions (even traumatic ones), as well as physical manifestations of emotions (i.e., feelings). Using IFS therapy techniques, we can transform trapped energy within our internal system and create room for new, more helpful thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and feelings.