Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has taken hold of the modern imagination as a method to decrease stress and increase happiness. Research has proliferated on the impacts of regular mindfulness practice on the brain and its efficacy in addressing many forms of suffering. Results demonstrate mindfulness practice to be a widely applicable and effective intervention when skillfully taught by an experienced practitioner.
Mindfulness is a universal human capacity that can be enhanced through mind/heart training. This training can be expressed as mindfulness meditation. Its development is best articulated in Buddhist teachings. One definition of mindfulness that I enjoy is from the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn. “Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. I drink water and I know I am drinking water.”
It is said there are two wings to mindfulness practice. One is Wisdom, seeing things clearly, as they are. The second is Compassion, meeting all that is here with friendliness. Both these wings lead to happiness. Wisdom liberates us from afflictions, such as wanting things to be a particular way. Compassion supports our tender heartedness with what is before us. Freedom from clinging to the past or pursuing the future allows us to open to the opportunities for happiness in the present. This is where life happens! Connection with others is only possible when the heart is open, in the here and now.
A key benefit of the cultivation of mindfulness is the diminishment of reactivity. The time between stimulus and response is experienced as extended so there is opportunity for choice of action. This can be extremely important in highly emotional situations when people may be triggered. Mindfulness and compassion applied to our own inner state, and the states of our family/friends/students/clients, grows calm. A greater sense of calm and steadiness promotes the experience of a secure and accepting environment. Being welcomed and held in this way, supports us to loosen our attachment to particular views and ‘put down the sword’.
Three key characteristics of mindfulness include an:
- Intention to cultivate awareness, and return to it again and again
- Attention to what is occurring in the present moment, simply observing thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise
- Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious, and kind.
Susan Harris is the primary teacher of this Mindfulness Meditation series. She has over 30 years of personal and professional experience based on Buddhist teachings and practices. Susan has completed the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification training program led by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.
Online Links for Getting Started and Refining your Practice
Discussion on establishing a practice:
Information on retreats and online sitting groups:
Some Key Readings
Brach, Tara: Radical Acceptance: Embracing Life with the Heart of a Buddha, 2003; True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Awakened Heart, 2012
Boyle, Gregory: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, 2011
Chodron, Pema: Awakening Loving-Kindness, 1996; When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Time, 1997; The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, 2001
Cohen, Darlene: Turning Suffering Inside Out, A Zen Approach to Living with Physical and Emotional Pain, 2000
Germer, Chris: The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions, 2009
Kabat-Zinn, Jon: Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Pain, Stress and Fear, 1990; Wherever You Go, There You Are, 1994; Coming to Your Senses, 2005
Kornfield, Jack: A Path with Heart: A Guide Trough the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, 1993; The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace, 2002; The Wise Heart, 2008; A Lamp into the Darkness, 2011; No Time Like the Present, 201
Manuel, Zenju Earthlyn: The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender, 2015
Neff, Kristin: Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself; 2011
Salzberg, Sharon: Lovingkindness, The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, 1995; A Heart as Wide as the World: Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom and Compassion, 1997
Thich Nhat Hanh: Peace in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, 1991; Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, 1992
Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., Kabat-Zinn, Jon: The Mindful Way Through Depression, 2007