After being transformed from Asia into the Western world about 40 years ago, mindfulness meditation has taken root and blossomed with amazing speed. During this short time period, it has evolved from being embroidered by a very small contingent in the counter-culture community into its present status as a very hot item within medicine, psychology, education, and many other mainstream venues.
Interestingly, this phenomenon is very much in keeping with a prediction made by the eminent historian, Arnold Toynbee. He wrote that "of all the historical changes in the West, the most important-and the one whose effects have been least understood-is the meeting of Buddhism in the Occident."
Bertrand Russell stated: "If we are to feel at home in the world, we will have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically but but culturally. But I am convinced they will be profound and of the greatest importance. "
As someone who has ardently practiced mindfulness meditation for 35 years, I regard this prediction as having been very prescient and highly accurate.
Three Major Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
The extremely wide range of significant mental, emotional, and behavioral benefits that commonly derive from the serious practice of mindfulness is somewhat akin to that of the seemingly endless useful ways that have been found for duct tape.
Here's a brief summary of three of its most important benefits:
1. An increased level of general satisfaction and fulfillment with pleasurable life activities . When someone learns how to be fully present and focused while engaging in such activities (eg, eating a favorite food, making love, relating to one's children, etc.), s / he is likely to experience a vastly higher level of enjoyment and fulfillment than someone who is scattered, distracted, and / or caught up in various forms of habitual discursive thinking.
Similarly, even activities that most people regard as intrinsically boring or monotonous can become quite fascinating when engaged in a high degree of focus and mindful presence.
Through the development of sufficient mindfulness, then, the experience of boredom becomes essential non-existent. As the famous Gestalt Therapist, Fritz Perls, was fond of saying, "if you're bored, it means you're not really paying attention."
2. A greatly heightened ability to cope effectively with physical pain. At least on occasion in our lives, nearly all of us are subject to a high level of pain-either acute or chronic. For millions of chronic pain victims, in fact, this litter form of unrelenting pain becomes an intrinsic and ever-present challenge. Historically in this culture most people in this predicament have relied primarily on pain-killing drugs in trying to get relief.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, through his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program has demonstrated that through even a modest degree of mindfulness training, people suffering from chronic pain can greatly increase their ability to cope with it effectively. Through this skill training, they likewise tend to improve their overall quality of life at the same time.
With specialized training in increasing their concentration power, some people with intense physical pain learn how to experience it as a form of constantly changing and moving energy, rendering it much easier to deal with. As unbelievable as it may seem, some of them actually report a sense of being empowered, or even nurtured, by such pain. A sufficient degree of skill development in mindfulness, then, can transform the experience of unbearable pain into a subjective means of personal growth and empowerment.
3. A similar increased capacity to cope effectively with emotional pain. Through the ongoing development of mindfulness as a tripartite mental skill set (concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity), practitioners learn progressively how to observe and deconstruct the various forms of emotional pain (eg, fear, grief, jealousy, guilt, anger, resentment, shame, etc.) into their component parts-ie mental images, thinking in words, and body sensations.
By simultaneously infusing these component parts with matter-of-fact acceptance (equanimity), even intense and painful emotions come to be viewed as non-personal and highly transient internal states. Just as is true in learning how to cope effectively with intense physical pain, this is highly empowering. Mindfulness, then, offers a powerful general means of reducing-or even eliminating-both physical and emotional suffering. This fact is often summarized in a succinct aphorism: "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional."
For further information and in-depth guidance about mindfulness, I invite you to my Wise Ways to Happiness blog.