Mindfulness works. It results in a more powerful and successful life.
It also give us the resilience to deal with tragedies like those that have recently occurred in Paris, Beirut and Kenya. Our social interactions research demonstrates this clearly, and adds to the growing body of evidence that cannot be disputed.
The good news is that focused attention is all we need to be mindful. We utilize this ability every day, in a variety of ways – to navigate a tricky road, to parent a child, to prepare for a business meeting, to train for a physical challenge.
So why is the very idea of meditating, of focusing the mind in the present, so frequently met with rejection? One of the most common things I hear as a mindfulness facilitator is the phrase, “Oh, I can’t meditate. I can’t just get my mind to quiet.”
As a chronic thinker myself, I can identify. But only for a second. Another part of me wonders at the disempowering statement. Translated: “I can’t do it, I am not up for the challenge.”
Our most recent research findings present compelling evidence that those who pursue mindful practices develop self and relationship mastery. They also win sports championships and measurably improve the function of their brains, according to other real world examples. In our book, we call these people Advocates, who operate from a connection to themselves and to others. Across the board they describe their lives as significantly more powerful, successful, and meaningful than those who do not engage in such behavior.
So with all this evidence to date, why isn’t everyone doing it? The answer lies with our relationship to challenge and our belief in our own power.
Personally, I am no stranger to overcoming challenges, as well as to often avoiding them. My first two times walking along El Camino de Santiago, I studiously avoided climbing the 4,500 feet and walking the 16 miles required to cross the Pyrenees in one day. For me, it seemed an insurmountable challenge. And yet, I knew there was a reason that the traditional journey began with that stage. There was something great to be gained from it.
In September, I took on the challenge and faced down the little doubting voice that said I didn’t really need to do it. The payoff was greater than I could have imagined.
The experience implanted in me an indelible knowledge of my own power. Portions of the day, alone or with fellow pilgrims, each leave a vivid memory of a lesson learned, a strength discovered, a belief in the goodness of people restored. Most importantly, it infused my core with a confidence that I can face and conquer any challenge, simply by choosing to be in each moment as it arises and by listening to my own needs. There were moments when I wanted to lay down and be rescued, when my tired legs and aching back refused another step. But I moved onward.
No amount of cognitive learning or intellectual knowledge can ever replace the bone-deep wisdom instilled through that experience. My life depends entirely on my own decision to see the good in each moment, or to suffer from lack. It really is that simple.
The miracle of the human body and mind ensures that we can continually develop our skills and abilities. Marathon runners, yoga practitioners, master musicians, skilled athletes, and anyone who wants to excel at anything start from the beginning. They gradually build skill, train muscles and movement, develop knowledge. A master isn’t created in one day.
The muscle of the mind is the same. Though the mind may think it is the master of our destiny, in reality it is simply a tool. When we allow the mind to settle, we see that there is something deeper that guides us. One experience of it allows us to recognize that truth and gives us the strength to let go for a few moments.
Our dominating mind chatter, usually fears and desires, has become so familiar to us that we do not even notice it. It is like recurring drumbeats going on in the background of our thoughts. Here are several steps to begin introducing a mindfulness practice:
Set aside 5-10 minutes a day to spend in a quiet place
Simply observe the thoughts that are arising in your mind, without attempting to quiet them
Be patient and objective with whatever comes up, resisting the urge to analyze or take action
Consciously choose to let feelings arise and pass away with engaging emotionally
The mind, finding itself watched in this way, will gradually grow calmer and quieter
Continue this exercise regularly for a month, and see your mental control greatly advance
Being an Advocate means taking control of your own mind, of practicing personal and relationship mastery. Our findings show that these allow you to live a life of accomplishment and integrity. You will become a much more powerful presence in the world.
After the tragedies of the last week, the world needs that of you.