Starting on Friday January 11th, I'll be starting a new six-week beginners' course in meditation - see the Classes page for details. We'll explore the wide world of meditation, seeing where it can take us and how it fits into our busy lives.
In the first week of the course, we'll start by taking a look at mindfulness. Mindfulness has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in recent years, with a large and growing body of scientific evidence supporting its benefits, and even a wide-ranging cast of celebrity endorsements. But what is it, how do we practise it, and why would we want to?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who pioneered modern mindfulness while working at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s, defines mindfulness as: 'the awareness that arises when paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally'.
Paying attention to something, on purpose, is a fundamental skill in all meditation practice, and it's pretty important in the rest of our lives too! It's hard to get anything done if we can't stay on task without getting distracted. Through meditation and other mindfulness practices we learn to strengthen our powers of attention, so that we remain calm, focused and stable in the middle of whatever life throws at us.
The present moment is another key aspect of mindfulness. Many of us spend much of our lives worrying about the future or dredging up the past again and again. Being mindful doesn't mean that we have to live from moment to moment, never making plans, but it encourages us to be present in the midst of our lives as much as possible. Over time, we can find a powerful sense of freedom, openness and richness right here and now, even in tough times.
The final piece of the puzzle is developing a sense of non-judgmental acceptance. We don't become fatalistic or passive, but rather we learn to let go of our reactivity, so that we can choose our actions wisely rather than being pushed around by forces outside our control. The non-judgmental attitude of mindfulness helps us to suspend our inner critic and deal with whatever's in front of us calmly.
Mindfulness is a powerful way to live. It helps us deal with the tough times, and encourages us to be fully present to enjoy the good times too. Any activity at all can be performed mindfully, and becomes richer and more rewarding as a result - even something as mundane as brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. So what are you waiting for?
If you'd like to give mindfulness a try, you can find a 10-minute introductory meditation, plus some guidance on setting up a sitting posture, on the Audio page.
Matt teaches early Buddhist and Zen meditation practices for the benefit of all. May you be happy!