With the increase in technology, our society has developed the expectation of immediate gratification. To accommodate this expectation, many jobs require staff to be “on-call” to respond to internet-generated inquiries 24/7, an expectation that was once reserved only for life-sustaining or emergency situations. As a result, medical illnesses related to stress have increased in the modern world leading people to look to medicine and psychology for ways to alleviate stress-related pain. Because of their effectiveness in reducing stress, mindfulness and meditation practices have become a significant part of therapeutic interventions in modern psychology.
Although many of the mindfulness and meditation practices taught in secular society today pull their rhetoric from Eastern religious traditions, meditation practices have been a part of Islam, Judaism, Christianity and many other world religions for centuries. One common feature in meditation traditions is a practice of “being still” and “noticing thoughts and experiences” in a reflective posture. Focusing on the body’s rhythm of breathing and places of physical discomfort or peace facilitates the natural reconnecting of the body, mind/soul and spirit which often becomes disconnected in the busyness of modern life. These short times of mindful awareness throughout the day are what I have come to call the practice of “pause”.
Research over the past several decades has revealed a number of benefits of meditation/mindfulness practices:
- Lessens anxiety, worry, stress, fear, loneliness and depression
- Improves resilience against pain and adversity
- Increases mental focus leading to better decision making, problem-solving, creative thinking and retention of information
- Increases ability to ignore distractions and manage ADHD symptoms
- Improves immune system and energy levels
- Reduces blood pressure and improves breathing and heart rates
- Lessens inflammatory disorders, asthma, heart and brain disorders
- Helps prevent arthritis and fibromyalgia
So how does one begin to incorporate mindful meditation into your life? Here are two suggestions from someone who leads a busy life.
- At your lunch break or another 5-10 minute break at work take a walk outside. Notice the colors you see and what emotions they inspire. Notice the physical sensations in your body as the wind blows against your skin and the sun warms your body. If you feel any areas of distress or tension in your body, sigh or take several deep breaths, allowing the refreshing breath to bring relaxation to the tense area. Imagine the tension leaving your body as you exhale.
- Intentionally wake up 10 minutes earlier in your day or stay up 10 minutes after others are in bed. Prepare your favorite beverage or select a small amount of a favorite food. Spend at least 30 seconds noticing its smell before you taste it. Take another 30 seconds to notice the textures or temperatures as you hold it in your hand. Notice how your body feels in anticipation of consuming the beverage or food. Then slowly begin to consume your treat, savoring every sip or bite. Notice the feelings of enjoyment in your entire body as you quietly savor nourishment. After spending at least 5 minutes observing the process of eating or drinking, you may choose to read and reflect on a spiritual meditation or engage in a time of prayer.
As with any new habit you start in your life, you will not do this perfectly. Don’t waste time judging yourself for the past. That’s futile and only leads to increased stress. Allow yourself to find places of stillness, even in the midst of all the things clawing for your attention. Shut off technology for several minutes and pause, noticing what your body, soul and spirit are saying. Not only will it bring health to your body, but it will also help you connect with wisdom that brings wholeness and life.