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The Journey to “Mindfulness”

by Rand Golletz

A long time ago, I worked for a CEO who was a dedicated practitioner of meditation. He shared with me the benefits it had for him and while I became curious, I filed away the idea and did intermittent research. Perhaps one day, I thought, meditation could be an effective way to deal with my stress. Fast forward several years.

I attended the (now) world famous Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program at the UMASS Medical Center. Led by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (click here to view a 60 Minutes Story about Jon), this program has exposed more people to mindfulness meditation than any program offered anywhere in the world. What started as a local experiment to help people cope with chronic pain has metastasized into the farthest reaches of the globe. What began with a focus on pain now helps people improve their (our) sense of overall well-being. What gained initial appeal because of anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness has now achieved broad, enthusiastic, scientific validation (Google Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin for more on this) of its ability to fundamentally change the human brain. What began as an ethereal concept inspired by Buddhists and practiced largely by new-age “weirdos” (the characterization I’ve heard used by others) has taken a foothold in corporate America (Google “Aetna and Mindfulness” for more).

Speaking personally, it has changed my life!

Early on I had trepidations about becoming a practitioner. I thought it might make me lose my “edge” or convey the impression that I had lapsed into “woo-wooness.” Neither of those things happened. What DID happen is this: I began getting comments that I appeared “different” than I was previously. I found myself less easily agitated by things that either didn’t matter or those over which I had little or no influence or control. My heart rate lowered by 15 beats a minute. I had always been physically fit. This became an effective compliment to that.

Today, when I mention to people that I meditate, their eyes don’t role. MOST people, however, respond with a litany of reasons why they don’t or can’t develop their own practice. My replies to those reasons are below:

I. I don’t have time to meditate.

How much time every week do you spend on Instagram or Facebook? Social media accomplished lots of great things. It has also impeded our ability to interpersonally relate, concentrate and focus. Take half of your social media time to cultivate a meditation practice.

II. It’s a “nice to do,” not a “need to do.” It’s just not a priority.

Is lowering your blood pressure a priority? Is boosting your immune system a priority? Is improving your focus a priority? Is fostering more compassion a priority? Meditation has been scientifically validated as a means to those ends.

III. It’s too hard. I could never clear my mind.

Becoming an effective meditator takes time and practice. It runs contrary to our current, emotional need for quick, effective answers to complex problems. If you can’t handle that, take drugs instead (LOL).

Meditation has nothing to do with clearing the mind. It helps to develop a more productive relationship with your thoughts. It assists you to examine what you previously thought was true, and to assign a label to your thoughts that is more appropriate. It helps you to avoid the “descending spiral” that starts with an idea and descends into frustration, anger, or depression. In short, it helps you treat your thoughts as thoughts and not as facts.

IV. There are too many distractions.

The kids are screaming; the dog is barking. I totally understand. Cultivating a meditation practice will help you observe when the mind begins to wander and catching yourself before it wanders too far. The practice of observing your mind’s activity, kind of like an “outside observer,” will nudge you back to the present moment.

V. I can’t sit still.

Your body is hard-wired to be able to be still. You sleep at night; there’s your evidence. Mindfulness meditation will help you sit still and be present when you are awake. If you need it to be perfect within a week, however, you’ll be out of luck. This process is like muscle-building for your conscious mind; it takes time.

VI. It’ll interfere with my religious/lack of religious beliefs.

Mindfulness comes from a Buddhist tradition, but it isn’t inherently about any religious tradition. Whether your beliefs include a religion or not won’t matter.

VII. There aren’t any classes or teachers convenient to where I live.

That may have been a valid point a decade or two ago, but it is no longer the case. There are teachers and programs available everywhere. Even the UMASS program that I took is now available online. The bigger issue today is finding a teacher who is qualified. If you have questions about that, either email me or call me at 301-801-9934.

So now you have no excuses!

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