There is a lot of “buzz” about Mindfulness lately –how it reduces stress, increases focus, improves health and delivers many other benefits. In fact, there is so much “buzz” that some may dismiss it as a fad, not realizing that it is a discipline that has been around for millennia, to which countless great minds and souls have devoted lifetimes of practice.
For anyone seeking to promote peace – whether it is inner-peace, peace within a family or community, or world peace – the question “Why Mindfulness?” might as easily be “Why air?” or “Why water?” The practice of mindfulness is foundational to the ability to bring a peaceful heart into the midst of pain and strife.
For those less familiar with the specifics of mindfulness practice, here are some of the very real ways it can nurture you and expand your ability to be a positive force in the world.
- Self-care: Mindfulness meditation can provide an invaluable respite from the chaos of life, a brief period free of worry or responsibilities during which we can take a step back, appreciate the beauty and wonder of the moment, and “check-in” with our body and spirit to see what additional care we might need. For those with some experience, there are also practices to help us process and console powerful emotions like anger, fear, and anguish, thus easing our distress and reducing the likelihood they will influence how we treat others.
- Develops clear-sightedness: Mindfulness practices strengthen our observation skills by fostering focused attention – with curiosity and acceptance – to our senses, our environment, and our emotional and mental states. With experience, we can also better read the actions and emotions of those around us. Over time, we come to see that many situations are both universal and transient, giving us better perspective on the circumstances we face.
- Fosters conscious action: A tremendous amount of our behavior is on “automatic pilot,” triggered by habit or external stimuli (including the demands, actions and emotions of others). Sitting in meditation, we learn to observe our impulses without acting on them. Building this ability to “hold the space” rather than react – and bringing it to our daily life – allows us to choose our words and actions consciously on everything from whether to grab a carrot or a cookie to how we respond to aggression from a family member or co-worker.
- Increases Compassion – and the ability to listen deeply: “Loving Kindness” meditations and other compassion exercises build our sense of connection and empathy for others – even those we disagree with or feel wronged by. Together with the ability to hold the space In the midst of difficult emotions, this allows us to be fully present with and truly hear others who need our support.
- Enables deeper reflection and analysis: Human problems are complex and highly fraught with emotion. The ability to clearly see the various dynamics, understand with compassion the perspectives of all parties, separate out and examine our own emotions in the mix and sit with challenges until a way forward emerges allows us to engage more thoughtfully and productively in whatever life brings us.
As you may have gathered, there are different types of Mindfulness exercises which build the various capabilities. And Mindfulness must be practiced. As with any other discipline, results are often in direct proportion to the amount and dedication of practice.
But the practice can be a joy, and while there is so much to be learned that a lifetime is not sufficient, even a few minutes a day can begin to bring benefit. Never has it been easier to study, with access to some of our generation’s greatest masters – from a variety of traditions – available via audio book and podcast – I share some of my favorite on my Resources page . Many recorded guided meditations are available online for free, and mindfulness courses and meditation groups are being offered by colleges, community centers and religious institutions.
Is it possible to be a peacemaker without Mindfulness practice? Certainly people have done so. Some are naturally grounded and wise, with calm and judicious temperaments. Others accomplish much of the same through prayer.
But if you ever find yourself wishing that you could be calmer or wiser or more compassionate, I encourage you to explore – and try practicing – Mindfulness Meditation.