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Mindfulness Practice, Mastery, Wellbeing, and Health

Dr. Joan Borysenko

Meditation provides a way to quit living in the potent mental movies of disaster, regret, anger, and fear that not only rob your peace of mind, but can sometimes trick the body into believing that they are really happening.

Joan Borysenko

 

The practice of mindfulness is available to everyone and it isn’t complicated. Still, mindfulness is not an easy practice because it requires an uncommon level of commitment. To become skilled at it, you must apply strong intention, clarity of purpose, and enormous self-discipline every day. As Jon Kabat-Zinn and others maintain, this cannot be an intellectual exercise in which you explore the concept or philosophy of mindfulness. No amount of academic study can substitute for the practice itself.

But for those of us who have chronic health challenges, making an extraordinary commitment to mindfulness practice carries the promise of extraordinary rewards. No matter what kinds of health challenges you’re living with, this practice can improve your sense of mastery and well-being by helping you become better able to navigate the vicissitudes inherent in living with chronic medical conditions. It works by allowing you to disengage from unhealthy thinking patterns. This has the effect of decreasing your emotional distress, which decreases the kind of physiological stress that can exacerbate or even create disease. As a result, your physiological functioning will improve.

Many people mistakenly think the goal of mindfulness meditation is to relax, and it is true that relaxation can be a result as emotional distress decreases. But while other forms of meditation aim for relaxation as the primary goal, the goal of all mindfulness practices is to learn to live in full contact with the present moment.

Mindfulness practice entails neutrally observing thoughts as they come and go. In this way you gain insights into your unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors. This gives you insights into your motivations and worldview as well. It is not about developing a running commentary on your thoughts and feelings; instead, it is a way to lovingly observe and be fully present with your thoughts, emotional states, and sensations and the entire gestalt of your life experiences.

Mind-watching is the most important thing we can do.

—Dalai Lama

Mind watching is fundamental to learning to experience your thoughts differently. You can use it as a way to see thoughts in a new context, and therefore give yourself the opportunity to act in new ways relative to your thoughts. You can easily get tangled up in a series of reactions to your thoughts, arguing with them, trying to be positive, trying to distract yourself, and getting anxious and frustrated about your inability to stop them. Mind watching offers an alternative way of experiencing thoughts with more objectivity.

Over time, you learn to perceive the arising and passing away of all phenomena, including the thoughts the brain generates. You become aware of all sensations without becoming attached to pleasant ones or trying to push away painful ones. Equanimity and nonattachment become common experiences.

Being aware of the nature of the wanderings of the mind without judging or attempting to change them leads to acceptance of not only your most unpleasant thoughts, but of situations and other people as well. In turn, that leads to a sense of connection with others, which is one of the most important contributors to health, well-being, and mastery.

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