Mindfulness is a practice that provides endless opportunities to cultivate greater intimacy with your own mind
and to tap into and develop your deep interior resources for learning, growing, healing, and potentially for transforming 
your understanding of who you are and how you might live more wisely and with greater wellbeing, meaning and happiness in the world. 

Summer of Wellbeing continues with my reading of Mindfulness for Beginners by John Kabat-Zinn. In the book, Kabat-Zinn covers Entering, Sustaining, Deepening, Ripening, and Practicing. He makes it clear that it’s a journey we’re on, but what a lovely picture he paints!

Let’s ENTER, shall we?

A Practice that doesn’t discriminate

There are so many reasons why we should consider “entering” this practice. Let’s begin by understanding that Mindfulness is for everyone and is a universal practice. Kabat-Zinn addresses the idea thought by many that because it is a form of meditation it is only for Buddhists. I really enjoyed what he had to say about this. He shares that, Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It is all about attention and awareness, which are both human capacities innate in all of us. Additionally, he shares that statutes of Buddha as well as other Buddhist objects serve as representations of states of mind rather than of divinity. Buddha himself symbolizes the embodiment of wakefulness—coming into awareness.

A filter through which to experience everything

As I read on I couldn’t help but to clearly see how through mindfulness our filter by which we see and experience everything changes. Kabat-Zinn tells us that there are two complementary ways to do it: formally and informally. Formally means engaging in making some time every day to practice (with guided meditations). Informally means letting the practice spill over into every aspect of our waking lives in an uncontrived and natural way. In the latter method I can see mindfulness supporting every single dimension of wellbeing: how we love ourselves and grow in intimacy with our own being; how we eat and move; how we think, explore our feelings, and communicate, and how we approach our work and aspects of pleasure and play in our lives.
“Ultimately, I see mindfulness as a love affair— with life, with reality and imagination, with the beauty of your own being, 
with your heart and body and mind, and with the world.” —John Kabat-Zinn
Let’s take wellbeing a bit further.  As you can imagine, and as studies are continually citing, the health benefits of mindfulness are endless. I’ll touch on a few that are highlighted in the book. First, mindfulness has the ability to shift us from our right-sided prefrontal cortex to the left (side) where there is greater emotional balance, and where positive immune system changes are induced. Perhaps years ago this information would not have been so fascinating, but today when we are constantly preaching the benefits of emotional intelligence for everyday effective life leadership, it is pretty awesome! Sticking with our brains, we know that mindfulness activates networks in our cerebral cortex that are involved in direct experiencing of the present moment, and activates less those networks that are involved in generating narratives about one’s experiences. You know…those stories we tell ourselves!! (BAM!) Pretty cool, huh? Finally, as our guest blogger last month shared with us (Janet Altman), mindfulness also thins out the right amygdala, a structure in the limbic system that loves to put us in fight or flight situations. As Janet would suggest, let’s stop running from that charging Buffalo!

Breath is a great beginning

“We drink in the air on each in-breath, giving it back to the world on each out-breath. The last breath is gone and the next one hasn’t come yet. It’s always a matter of THIS ONE.” Kabat-Zinn so beautifully reminds us that although we often don’t realize it, our breathing happens with our without us! We would not be alive without it. Our first breath was our beginning…our entrance into this beautiful world. We can “enter” this practice through focusing on our moment by moment breath. At the beginning it is important to focus on something (like breathing, a sound, or an object). But through sustained practice it grows and develops into the awareness of awareness itself. Focusing on our breath is a great start, and a “radical act of love and sanity” (I’ll add…as Air Supply expressed…in a very hustled and hurried world!).

Creating a new default baseline

I connected so deeply with this last concept I’ll share with you. In fact, as I took in all Kabat-Zinn had to say about Entering, I couldn’t help but think about a few situations life wanted to challenge me with this last month, which threw me into the black hole of my thoughts. Have you been there? You know, that place where you associate your thoughts with who you are, with who you think you should be, and with who others want you to be? It’s also that place where we feel we have to run at a ridiculous speed to solve everything “now”.  In fact, we don’t even need big universal tests to get us into those ego thoughts, because we usually are already there . This is the difference between doing and being. It is really only through this awareness that Kabat-Zinn speaks of that we can release our thoughts (like a running stream) and our judgments of ourselves and others in every moment.
These thoughts we create become our “default”. Through mindfulness we have the ability to “befriend our thoughts and hold them in gentle awareness.” It’s not about stopping them or changing them, but holding them in a space where they don’t overtake us or “dictate our responses to life no matter what their content and emotional charge. They then can become workable rather than imprisoning.” Kabat-Zinn likens this practice to turbulence. “You can descend beneath the surface thirty or forty feet or so and you’ll find no turbulence at all, just gentle undulation.”

Let’s close with this powerful thought, which helps drive in the importance of creating our new default— BEING of purpose, intention and impact.
“Often our lives become so driven that we are moving through our moments to get to better ones at some later point. 
If we are not careful, it is all too easy to fall into becoming more of a human doing than a human being, and forget who is doing all the doing and why. Then our doing can come out of our being and be much more integrated and effective.”

We may feel as though we are doing nothing when we set off to be mindful, but it is truly an exercise in everything!
Thank you for sharing your last few precious moments with me! Take a long, delicious, deep breath, and have a wonderful day.