Does Mindfulness Help?

(video 3:30m) If Mindfulness Meditation doesn’t take away the things that are bothering me, how does it help? How does noticing what’s bothering me benefit me? I already know how bothered I am! How is paying attention to it going to make things better?

Great questions! Glad you asked.

It does seems counter-intuitive to do something that not only doesn’t fix the bad things, it has you pay attention to them more! The difference is really about perspective or point of view… normally, when we’re realizing that we feel terrible, we’re in the middle of it. We’re believing the thoughts and emotions that we’re having and we think and feel as if they are our whole reality. We’ve forgotten that actually they’re just thoughts and emotions and that they come and go.

Mindfulness offers us another place to notice from, a place that we have access to at all times if we care to be in it – that part of us that is simply aware that we’re here doing what ever we’re doing (thinking and feeling). It’s simply to notice from that state of mind that is always here, available, that can notice what we’re thinking and feeling.

It’s so simple that it is easy to miss. You can access it right now by noticing where you are physically. Notice that you (in your body) are standing or sitting or lying down where ever you are. Notice that you are there and not say, in Paris (unless of course you are and then notice that you’re in Paris and not in London.) That part of you that just noticed that simple fact is the part we’re using in mindfulness.

If you start thinking or feeling things about the place that you’re in, say that you really like the temperature, there’s a part of you that can notice that you’re thinking. There’s a part that can say, “This is me having the thought that I like the temperature.” That’s it. That’s the part of you that we’re accessing. Super simple.

So how does accessing that part help? Well, imagine that you’re really upset about something. Your heart is racing, you’re breathing fast, you’re looking around for someone or something to yell at… you’re in the middle of emotion. What if you could in that moment access that part of you that can say, “Hey, this is me feeling really upset. Wow. This is big! I’m REALLY upset!”

Right in that moment, you have just given yourself a tiny bit of room from the emotion. You’re still feeling it and you’re also aware that it’s not your whole reality. Suddenly, you have choices. “Hm. I wonder what I want to do with this feeling? Do I want to yell at the person in front of me? Or do I want to let them know I’m super upset and need to go outside and vent for a few minutes?”

See how that works?

Yes, it takes practice and commitment to keep practicing, and if you like it it can change your life. In the beginning you might just get to watch yourself yell at the person, which is pretty painful. “Wow, this is me yelling at this person and being a complete jerk. Ouch.” And slowly, we get better and better at being in the mindful place even during stress, and our ability to choose what to do (vs just yelling) gets stronger and stronger.

Enjoy being mindful.

(p.s. If you’re interested, practicing this state actually causes measurable changes in the brain according to studies. Psychologists call it “self-regulation” and neurologists have found that the related part of the brain grows in size. Look for Dr Sara Lazar’s studies on my Links page.)