Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World
Chapter 1 — Chasing Your Tail – Quotes & Notes
From the Foreward by Jon Kabat Zinn
- If I’m not here, then I’m missing out on the only life that is.
- Mindfulness is a practice. It’s a life skill (a way of being in life) that one can learn.
- Like any skill, it must be developed. I’m practiced in future tripping or being somewhere other than where I am. Learning to be really present (or recognizing when I’m not and returning to being so) is going to take practice. It will surely come with some effort and a bit of self-compassion as I learn.
One Minute Meditation
A typical meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them. You come to realize that thoughts come and go of their own accord; that you are not your thoughts. You can watch as they appear in your mind, seemingly from thin air, and watch again as they disappear, like a soap bubble bursting. You come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient. They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.
Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself. When unhappiness or stress hovers overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past. In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.
- See the book for instructions on a one-minute meditation.
The benefits of mindfulness meditation
Numerous psychological studies have shown that regular meditators are happier and more contented than average. These are not just important results in themselves but have huge medical significance, as such positive emotions are linked to a longer and healthier life.
- Anxiety, depression and irritability all decrease with regular sessions of meditation. Memory also improves, reaction times become faster and mental and physical stamina increase.
- Regular meditators enjoy better and more fulfilling relationships. Studies worldwide have found that meditation reduces the key indicators of chronic stress, including hypertension.
- Meditation has also been found to be effective in reducing the impact of serious conditions, such as chronic pain and cancer, and can even help to relieve drug and alcohol dependence.
- Studies have now shown that meditation bolsters the immune system and thus helps to fight off colds, flu and other diseases.
Note: See the book for footnotes to research documenting these benefits.
Meditation is not about accepting the unacceptable. It is about seeing the world with greater clarity so that you can take wiser and more considered action to change those things that need to be changed. Meditation helps cultivate a deep and compassionate awareness that allows you to assess your goals and find the optimum path towards realizing your deepest values.
- The foregoing is from a section dispelling some of the myths about mindfulness and meditation. This is a crucial one. Mindfulness, being aware of my thoughts and feelings allows me to actually make more considered decisions than simply responding to the scripts society plays. See Mindfulness and Learning from those I disagree with.
Finding Peace In A Frantic World
Our moods naturally wax and wane. It’s the way we’re meant to be. But certain patterns of thinking can turn a short-term dip in vitality or emotional well-being into longer periods of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion.
- when you start to feel a little sad, anxious or irritable, it’s not the mood that does the damage but how you react to it.
- the effort of trying to free yourself from a bad mood or bout of unhappiness—of working out why you’re unhappy and what you can do about it—often makes things worse. It’s like being trapped in quicksand—the more you struggle to be free, the deeper you sink.
The mind is constantly trawling through memories to find those that echo our current emotional state. For example, if you feel threatened, the mind instantly digs up memories of when you felt endangered in the past, so that you can spot similarities and find a way of escaping. It happens in an instant, before you’re even aware of it.
The same is true with unhappiness, anxiety and stress. It is normal to feel a little unhappy from time to time, but sometimes a few sad thoughts can end up triggering a cascade of unhappy memories, negative emotions and harsh judgments.
You can’t stop the triggering of unhappy memories, self-critical thoughts and judgmental ways of thinking—but you can stop what happens next. You can stop the spiral from feeding off itself and triggering the next cycle of negative thoughts. You can stop the cascade of destructive emotions that can end up making you unhappy, anxious, stressed, irritable or exhausted.
- By living mindfully I can recognize destructive memories and thoughts as they arise.
- I am not my memories and thoughts. When they arise, I can observe them and let them pass.
- Along with the analytical side of the mind (thinking, judging, planning, and problem solving,) the mind is also aware of its thinking. But we don’t just think. We experience things directly through our senses.
- “creates greater mental clarity; seeing things with pure open-hearted awareness. It’s a place—a vantage point—from which we can witness our own thoughts and feelings as they arise. It takes us off the hair trigger that compels us to react to things as soon as they happen.” (emphasis added)
- “encourages us to become more patient and compassionate with ourselves and to cultivate open-mindedness and gentle persistence. These qualities help free us from the gravitational pull of anxiety, stress and unhappiness by reminding us what science has shown: that it’s OK to stop treating sadness and other difficulties as problems that need to be solved. “ (emphasis added)
- “does not negate the brain’s natural desire to solve problems. It simply gives us the time and space to choose the best ways of solving them. Some problems are best dealt with emotionally—we select the solution that “feels” best. Others need to be slogged through logically. Many are best dealt with intuitively, creatively. Some are best left alone for now.”
- “encourages you to break some of the unconscious habits of thinking and behaving that stop you from living life to the full. Many judgmental and self-critical thoughts arise out of habitual ways of thinking and acting. By breaking with some of your daily routines, you’ll progressively dissolve some of these negative thinking patterns and become more mindful and aware. “
Unless noted otherwise, all quotes are from:
Williams, Mark; Penman, Danny (2011-10-25). Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (pp. 4-5). Rodale. Kindle Edition.