Mindfulness makes living a happy and health life and relationship easier, and more effortless. Yet it is more than the vital practices that it is most commonly associated with, such as cultivating a sense of effortless presence, awareness, connection to mind and body, breath work, and the like.
It also requires us to become conscious and aware thinkers, and this requires effort. consistent and conscious effort to become aware and conscious thinkers.
Essentially, it is, if anything, a transformation of old thought and belief patterns that activate our fear response unnecessarily, and thus prevent us from a deeper relationship and connection to our self, mind and body, and life around us.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a learned ability to live in the present moment, an inner connection to our experience of life in and around us. The practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, with origins in many spiritual traditions to include Christianity. It was first introduced to health environments in the 1800s to help patients in hospitals cope with pain. More recently, it has been increasingly used in mental health professions to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help clients regulate intense emotions, such as anger, in challenging situations.
Mindfulness is also a way of thinking about our self, mind and body and emotions, and life and others around us that fills us with awe and gratitude, reverence and wonder. Rather than seeing human beings as objects that can be controlled, victimized or dominated by others, essentially:
- We understand and accept ourselves and others as human beings wired, by nature, to need to matter, thus, to seek emotional fulfillment (meaning) in life.
- We experience our instincts to act to restore our sense of safety as also part of our nature; we are wired to need to feel safe.
- We use our energy (power) wisely, viewing this as a choice as to how we respond in any given moment to fulfill our yearnings; natural instincts propel us from within toward what helps us “feel good” about ourselves and our lives, and away from what is painful, unpleasant or uncomfortable. This ensures we survive and ultimately thrive, and yet without conscious thought leading us to wise action, the sensations of our body can mislead us.
- We need to become conscious thinkers and choice makers so that our mind understands and works wisely together with our body (listening to sensations to make informed choices). For example, some things that feel pleasant and give comfort are destructive, i.e., drugs, junk food; and some things that are painful are life and growth promoting, i.e., new experiences, learning, exercise, etc.
- As children, we were completely dependent on caregivers for our emotional survival, a quest that was, literally, a matter of life and death at the time. Infants are born completely dependent on caregivers for physical survival—and our physical survival at this time completely depends on our emotional survival. Infants need love to survive; they do not survive regardless their physical sustenance needs for food, warmth, etc., are met.
- As adults, we are no longer dependent on others for emotional fulfillment to survive. If we survived childhood with most of our faculties, everything we need for our fulfillment is inside.
In fact, it is not possible for any person or thing to emotionally fulfill us. This is an “inside” job that only we can do. It is our task in life, as part of this human journey to learn how to energize, connect to and rely on our inner generator.
These and other understandings about our nature are vital to our health and well being. The fields of science are no coincidence. We are born scientists of sorts, propelled to learn and study our world and the universe — and our species — throughout our life.
Why is mindfulness essential?
We live in a world of cultural expectations and distractions that, wittingly or unwittingly, have conditioned our minds away from a calmer and conscious awareness of life around us from within, and instead more focused on external standards of performance, which elevate anxiety, and promote mental fragmentation and incoherence for our protection.
On the basis of arbitrary standards of performance, we learn to compare and judge our self and to measure our self worth, using dichotomous labels, such as “right” or “wrong,” “superior” or inferior,” “good” or “bad.” This alerts or keeps our body’s survival system in ready position; it also intensifies fear-based emotions.
- We think toxic thoughts and hold limiting beliefs that keep us repeating patterns that cause more of the same because they elevate upsetting (fear-based) emotions.
- We are misguided to anxiously fight to not “feel bad,” and thus “feel good,” on the basis of proving ourselves right or in some way “superior” to the other.
- We fearfully put up defensive walls at the same time, to block any evidence of being wrong or inadequate in relation to the other, which shake up our sense of safety and security in the relationship.
Since these fear-based thinking-feeling states automatically trigger our fight-or-flight reactions, our brains are kept in a varying degrees of vigilance to protect us from further perceived “enemy” attacks. Not surprisingly, this conditioning makes our quest for peace of mind and harmonious living a constant struggle at best.
The practice of mindfulness can serve as an antidote for compulsive or addictive patterns of behavior and other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Studies show that mindfulness boosts the immune system of the body, reduces stress, and lowers risks for heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. People who practice mindfulness experience more joy, empathy and enthusiasm for life. They feel more secure, accept their weaknesses, and can listen to negative feedback from others without feeling threatened or defensive.
They also learn throughout years of practice that shifting away from old ways of thinking are key to transformation and enlightenment.
10 Essential Ways of Thinking
The peace, joy and harmony we yearn for in our life and relationships is in our hands to achieve. We have this power within. It requires us to learn, however, and diligently practice at least the following 10 thought patterns, essentially patterns of thought that:
- View differences between us and those we love (others in general) as potentially valuable and personally enriching growth experiences (rather than threading, divisive, etc.).
- Expand our capacity to empathically connect, and thus compassionately love our self and others (rather than “have to wait” until something/someone “makes us” feel loved, appreciated, good enough to love).
- Nurture healthy emotional connections when dealing with upsetting communications (rather than resort to punitive tactics and emotional manipulation of emotions of guilt, intimidation or shame).
- Engage our self and other in ways that foster win-win solutions, cooperation and mutuality (rather than competition).
- Encourage natural giving that stems out of love and joy (rather than out of fear, shame or guilt).
- Seek to know and value the uniqueness of self and others (rather than comparing who is better, superior, etc).
- Approach problems as opportunities for growth, learning, relationship building (rather than avoid them or measure our self worth on our ability to “force” certain outcomes or “get” others to change).
- Take one hundred percent responsibility for our part in any outcome (rather than blame events, persons etc.).
- Treat self and other with dignity especially when we are upset, the way we all yearn to be treated (rather than resort to punitive tactics of retaliation, etc.).
- Transform to an observing attitude of self, others and life that bestows benefits of health to our mind and body, and helps us make wiser, better informed decisions (rather than a judgmental one that condemns, accuses, competes for who’s “right” or superior, etc.).
Harmonious living calls for an expansion of our capacity for compassion, an ability to remain open to know, understand and unconditionally love, value and respect our self fully (when we fall short) as a basis for—and a measure of—expressing genuine love and respect for the dignity of others (when they fall short).
In addition to the vital practices of mindfulness, to live mindfully requires us to transform a judgmental attitude of self, others and life to a conscious way of observing life in and around us, to thoughts that produce optimal feelings, and ways of being that allow our mind and body to work together so we may enjoy the benefits of a healthy life and relationships.
There is no way around living life to expand our compassion if our goal is to fully live, and not merely survive.
The mirror neurons in our brains directly associate our level of esteem for others with our level of esteem for our self, and vice versa. Persons with healthy esteem for self have a high regard, esteem for others, and the reverse is true. To the extent we hate, disdain or loathe another, we harbor the same emotions for our self, and so on.
This likely explains why forgiveness (or letting go of emotional states of rage, retaliation, bitterness etc.) is an essential practice. Forgiveness is something we do for our own physical and emotional healing, health and well being.
We can ignore or deny this two-directional main street of our nature, but we cannot change how we are wired. It would be akin to ignoring our need oxygen, water and nutrients and so on. We are relationship beings; our brains our relationship organs. Even when we shut out another from our lives, we are continually relating, communicating at some level. Our subconscious mind continues to keep a bond once created…we simply relate in a different (hopefully healthy) way in our mind and body.
To relate differently, we must think differently. In the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve [life issues] with the same thinking that created them.”
There is no way out of stuck places of suffering apart from embarking on the path of compassion. Genuine love for self and life around us energizes the flow of natural giving. When one side of the equation is blocked, so is the flow.
To live in harmony with self, others and life, allows us to be consciously present and comfortable in our mind and body, and this is as essential to the formation of healthy relationships as breathing is to life.
In short, the practice mindfulness facilitates our capacity for consciously loving thoughts toward self and others, and in turn, this compassionate way of thinking allows our transformation to a mindfulness way of life.