fivethirtyeight.com offers a take on whether mindfulness meditation is helpful. The image shown comes from a journal named JAMA Internal Medicine.
There’s a scene in the movie, The Family Man, where Nicolas Cage is sitting in a chair and trying to stay awake, because he knows that when he falls asleep his “glimpse” will be over.
The moments just before passing out are like that. Assuming that you’re not panicking, you’re vibrantly aware of everything around you — colors, smells, etc., because you don’t know if you’re just passing out or this is Game Over.
The end of a lucid dream can also be like that. You can be in the dream, know that you’re dreaming, and then know that you’re starting to wake up. You don’t want to leave, but you don’t have a choice, so you pay great attention to the environment because you know that you may never see it again.
To the best of my knowledge, all of those are also the correct mental state for Zen and mindfulness meditation. As Shunryu Suzuki says, “The true practice of meditation is to sit as if you are drinking water when you are thirsty.”
When I meet people who seem stressed out (stress/anxiety/worrying), I try to encourage them to practice mindfulness meditation or yoga. I find both of those practices to be a wonderful way to quiet the thoughts in the mind. (It may help to know that the basic practices are 100% non-religious.)
Personally, I enjoy living in the present moment, without thoughts about the past or future. I used to be an angry young man, and using these practices to calm my mind has made my life happier and more productive. A couple of times a year I still lose it, but these practices always help to re-quiet my mind.
(I think the image shown was created by Gemma Correll.)
If you’re interested in a simple introduction to mindfulness meditation, search the Internet for a free, 25-page PDF booklet named, “Buddha in Blue Jeans,” by Tai Sheridan. Despite that name, the booklet has good, non-denominational tips about meditating and mindfulness (and only mentions the name “Buddha” twice in the main text).
Here’s a favorite quote: “Be like a cat purring. Follow your breath like ocean waves coming in and out.”
Today’s mindfulness “lesson of the day” (mostly for myself) is a reminder to keep practicing, even when you don’t feel like it. You don’t get to choose when moments of enlightenment happen, so the best thing you can do is keep practicing so those moments will be possible when the right circumstances (karma?) come into alignment.
What happens is that over time, both the mindfulness and the enlightenment bits change the wrinkles in your brain, change your perspective and attitude, and cleanse the environmental conditioning of whatever happened to get you to this point. With continued practice you evolve (think “metamorphosis”) into a new person over time — this time a person of your own choosing, rather than a person conditioned by where and when you were born and lived.
(And who knows, maybe one day you’ll break free from the endless cycle of karmic existence, if you’re into that sort of thing.)