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The audio file above is a guided meditation to help you build a daily mindfulness practice. As with any guided meditation, you may decide to try it on your own without guidance. Some meditation teachers will have you count your breath from 1 to 10, with each in and out breath being one count. The counting of breath is done to aid in concentration and dropped once steadiness of concentration is achieved. You may find it helpful to do the “BodySensing” meditation prior to this one. I have created a soundcloud playlist here with both meditations.
In general, it is thought that we go about our lives in mostly mindless states (autopilot) performing daily routines without fully participating in what we are doing. The mindless state creates stress and or dullness because one is thinking about something in the future or going over something from the past. The practice of mindfulness whether formal (meditation) or informal (awareness of daily life), helps one to fully participate in whatever activity in which we are engaged. This practice done in meditation will ultimately extend to our everyday lives. As Ronald D. Siegel (2013) reports, mindfulness changes the activity of the brain and; therefore, it’s structure that in turn alters the activity of the brain, which affects behavior. He also states that mindfulness practice improved both alerting (something new entering the awareness field) and sustained attention (following something over time without distraction). Additionally, the meditator does not habituate to repetitive events but instead perceives each repeated event as new removing them from the mindless state. Things like memory, detail recall, and decision making are improved especially in older meditators. Things like increased problem solving and greater logical abilities are another benefit of mindfulness meditation. There are many more benefits which I have not included.
A bit about mindfulness…
The concept of Mindfulness comes from the Buddhist Teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is a breakdown of the fourth noble truth, called the truth about the path leading to the cessation of suffering and falls under the heading concentration (Samadhi). This 7th item on the path refers to right (samma) mindfulness (sati). I have heard “samma” (right) alternately defined as “integrated” or “whole”. I’ve also heard it translated as “thoroughly”, “accurately” and “fully”. The word right is problematic in English because it connotes position and inflexibility. The word right also puts forth the notion of something that is rigidly moralistic. “But what, O monks, is right mindfulness (sammasati)? Herein the monk dwells in contemplation of the body—the feelings—the mind—mind-objects, ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief.” (DN 22; MN 141 §13) “Right” mindfulness means doing it fully (“ardent, clearly conscious”) and without distractions. Mindfulness of breathing is spelled out more clearly in the Forty Concentration Exercises under Mindfulness of In-and-Out Breathing (anapanasati), as well as in The Four Applications (Foundations, Parts or Establishments) of Mindfulness (Sattipatthana). After selecting a place to sit cross-legged in solitude, a meditator does the following: “mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out”. “When making a long inhalation he knows: “I make a long inhalation”; when making a long exhalation, he knows: “I make a long exhalation,” etc. (MN 10; DN 22 §129)
Mindfulness in Western Psychology
The iteration of mindfulness in Western Psychology adds some additional instructions onto the type or quality of awareness. John Kabat-Zinn defines it this way, “Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness”. He wants the practitioner of mindfulness not to judge whatever it is they become aware of during meditation. Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield describes mindfulness as “an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it”. Jack directs us to the “actual experience” and how it is something that teaches us. These added dimensions help to address some issues that are unique to Westerners and their psychological functioning.
Resources and texts of interest:
The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being – Professor Ronald Siegel
The Buddha’s Path to Deliverance: A Systematic Exposition in the Words of the Sutta Pitaka – Nyanatiloka Thera