The point of mindfulness practice is not to calm down. It’s to learn to be aware of what’s making you anxious and meet it with compassionate acceptance. Ironically, that can calm you down.
Just think about it (and you have to use your mind for that). The mind can (and wants to) influence everything we do and feel.
Take sports. What’s the difference between Division 1 -men’s average free throw percentage of 70% in an actual game vs about shooting during practice at 95%? It’s the pressure. And pressure comes from the mind. The pressure comes from the little voice that says, “If you don’t make this we lose it all” or “Make sure you don’t make a mistake because we’ll be ruined” or “Oh, oh, you didn’t make the last one”.
Take pain. Your mind can make up a lot of stories that can make any pain seem worse. You can worry that the pain won’t end, or that it’s unbearable, or that it will keep you from functioning. All this thinking exacerbates pain. Pain is really just a sensation. I’m not trying to minimize extreme pain. But if you really pay attention to the thoughts you have when you are experiencing some discomfort, you’ll see that thoughts can make things worse or better for that matter.
Take communication. How much of your truth is being censored by your mind? For better or worse? How much of your listening is dominated by your thoughts on giving advice? Or maybe your too busy thinking about what you’re going to say to hear what your being told.
We practice mindfulness to gain the ability to focus our attention where we want. We practice watching our mind and our thoughts. We get good at identifying thoughts or worries from reality. We practice bringing our awareness back to the present and what is real.
When one has the ability to watch the mind the ball player can know that the basket is just like the one in practice. If he focuses his attention on the present and his body he can relax and increase his chance of making the basket.
Regarding pain we can focus on the sensation of it not the thoughts that exacerbate it. Thereby decreasing the energy needed to “fight” it and use it for healing and relaxing.
And when we’re communicating, we can really “be” with the person, hearing what they are trying to say. We can notice our feelings about what they’re saying and choose a wise response that creates connection rather than friction.
This is the power of the practice of mindfulness. We strengthen the muscle of choosing where to put our focus. We gain understanding on how the mind works. And by doing that we’re able to choose our response to life’s challenges.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to present moment experience without judging it. But why is that action so powerful and why can it reap so many benefits? First of all, a lot of what happens once you establish a practice, is that you start to get to know your mind and see what it does with stuff. The mind affects everything we do. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”. This points to the power of the mind. I’m not necessarily talking about positive thinking. I’m pointing to the stories that your mind tells you and how they affect your choices.
When we face challenges, our mind has something to say about it. It analyzes, sorts, prioritizes and judges all the data so that we can make a decision. That’s what the mind does and thank goodness for that. The problem is that the mind has a negativity bias. In order for our ancestors to survive, they had to be able to spot and avoid danger before it hurt them. So our nervous system and brains developed this “negative” way of looking at things. Therefore every dead branch on the forest floor became a possible snake. That was good because we avoided a lot of snake bites (and deaths) that way.
To illustrate this, what do you see in the picture below?
It’s just a tree right? Or do you also see a scary monster? We’re designed to see danger first and ask questions later. That works really well when we’re hiking the wilderness hunting for food. But how does the negativity bias work while living in the 21st century? Not so well. Unfortunately, we see possible annihilation in every deadline, or danger at every dirty look.
So we need to first see the bias. We need to slow down enough to recognize it. Then we can respond appropriately. Mindfulness meditation practice is about watching what the mind does. With enough enough practice you really can get good at seeing all the tricks of the mind. Therefore using this information to respond rather than react to “perceived” danger.
Part 2: How the mind affects pretty much everything we do.
Mindfulness Meditation 6-week class series at Millbrea Community Center starts Tuesday, May 5th at 10:45. There are still 5 openings. Sign up on-line. Millbrea Community Center.