Mindfulness Clarifies Your Mind
Imagine a light bulb attached with a diffuser. Light from that bulb is soft, mellow, unfocused. You can probably see everything in that room but without clarity. For example it may be difficult to read a notice or a restaurant menu under such a light. Even though you will see that some words are written in larger and bolder print than other words, you may struggle to make meaning from the shapes on the page. And maybe the shadows created from this dimmer light make you believe you see what is not really present, such as a stranger lurking in the shadows.
Now imagine the same wattage from a florescent globe. The light is sharp and clear, details obvious, reading is now easy. What was previously vague is now certain. The shadow of the stranger hiding behind the door is now gone and it becomes clear that it was, after all, only a jacket hanging there.
When our mind is busy and overloaded it can feel like having we’re “wearing” a diffuser. Our thoughts are going everywhere in a weak, unfocused way. We have a sense of everything that’s going on but not the capacity to concentrate our thoughts in a useful and meaningful way.
The fact is that not all our thoughts are important or even useful. Thoughts are not facts. Sometimes they’re not even complete. We get fragments of ideas, memories, concerns, plans. A piece of brilliance here, a scrap of lunacy there. If you were to write down every thought that came into your head in the space of just one hour, you may be shocked to see how unimportant and even useless most of these thoughts are.
And many of our thoughts are not even based on reality. A distorted memory reflecting your perception and emotions of a past event that may or may not have occurred in that precise way; or a fear about a future event that hasn’t yet transpired but you feel all the sense of anxiety as if it had, and your thoughts reflect this. Just like the jacket hanging behind the door that looked like a lurking stranger.
Mindfulness training removes the diffuser and helps us see with greater clarity what’s really present. When we remove the self-created narrative around each event and focus on what’s really there, it allows us to choose an appropriate response instead of reacting impulsively or over-emotionally. For example, we can’t possibly know whether the driver who cut us off did so deliberately or because he didn’t see us. So our reaction to that event will be based on the story we create for ourselves, which is not necessarily the truth.
Mindfulness Meditation teaches us to observe the steady stream of thoughts in our mind, understanding that most of these thoughts are not important, nor based on reality. Instead of following these thoughts, during meditation we return to a specific object of attention, usually the breath. When our attention wanders away to another thought, we gently, lovingly, non-judgementally return the attention back to the breath. Again. And again. And again. In this way we can train our mind to focus where we choose (in this case on the breath), rather than where the mind wants to go.
And the attitude of non-judgement is all-important. To say to yourself, “I’m so stupid to worry about that”, really defeats the purpose of letting go of thoughts. The nature of the mind is to produce thoughts. Whether or not we choose to listen to these thoughts, to follow them, is up to us. No judgement.
Repeated training in this way helps to remove the diffuser, clarifying focus and improving concentration. Science shows this to be true: brain studies have revealed that regions of the brain concerned with focus and concentration become more developed in regular meditators.
Simple? Very! Easy? Not at all! Useful? Absolutely!
This is why appropriate guidance is important.
- Find a teacher or a course you feel personally comfortable with
- Don’t try to learn everything in one sitting. You need time to consolidate your skills, practice and return with questions.
- Ensure you have ongoing support after you’ve learned the skills. Connecting with a meditation group and practicing with them regularly develops this skill as a life long habit.
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