So, I have a confession to make: I’ve always hated the idea of mindfulness. Here I am, all spiritual and New Agey and stuff, and I’ve never even initiated a conversation about it. Ridiculous, right? Here’s my excuse.
Until very recently, I knew nothing about this spiritual practice. It was just a vague term, and not an especially pleasing one at that. Whereas for some, the idea of mindfulness inspires a sort of beatific glow, for me, it was just another entry on the never-ending to do list of life. Just learning more about it seemed exhausting. Then I actually did learn more–and abruptly changed my perspective.
Right now, as research for this site, I’m reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin for the first time. Now a modern classic, this gives one of the more detailed, systematic (even medical) approaches to mindfulness meditation. It’s based on the successful hospital classes led by Kabat-Zin many years ago, with more recent additions in the revised version I’m reading. I’m also reading several books by Thich Nhat Hanh right now, and listening to an Eckhart Tolle audiobook. I didn’t think of Tolle as a mindfulness meditation teacher, but I’m seeing now that he is (though he might not appreciate the label).
Previously, I viewed mindfulness as a sort of bland, unoriginal approach to spirituality. I mean, it’s just so popular, right? Even non-spiritual people are doing it. After doing the above reading, though, I changed my mind.
Mindfulness, it turns out, isn’t what I thought it was.
I thought mindfulness was: Enjoying life.
Mindfulness is: Being aware of and accepting whatever thoughts come, whether or not they’re thoughts of enjoyment and appreciation.
I thought mindfulness was: Thinking pleasant thoughts about the ordinary things you see around you as you go throughout your day.
Mindfulness is: Feeling your “inner body,” as Tolle calls it–bringing your attention to the energy within you throughout the day.
I thought mindfulness was: Eating more slowly. Listening more carefully.
Mindfulness is: Being who you are. Doing what comes naturally to you when you’re acting from your highest self.
I thought mindfulness was: Not future-thinking. Not past-thinking.
Mindfulness is: Using your mind in the ways that it serves you. That includes some future- and past-thinking.
I thought mindfulness was: Being in a state of deep acceptance of what is.
Mindfulness is: Being in the state of meditation. Even when you’re not totally able to accept what is.
I thought mindfulness was: A politically correct alternative to more advanced ways of meditating.
Mindfulness is: As advanced as I ever need to be.
In other words: Before, mindfulness seemed to me both overly simplistic as well as impossible to achieve. Now, it seems to be exactly what I already do every day: meditating, appreciating, loving. Rinse, repeat.
I still don’t love the word mindfulness for some reason. At this point, the
guilt-producing mental associations still sully it. But I do like mindfulness itself.
Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Yes. For sure. Probably for everyone.
Have you tried it? For how long?
Possibly the main takeaway I got from my recent reading is that I’ve actually been practicing mindfulness meditation for at least four years now. I don’t do many long sitting meditations these days, but my main spiritual practice is to enter into a state of meditation–just a behind-the-scenes sort of sensing of the Divine–in the morning and to hold that place throughout the day. I certainly don’t always succeed in this (read You’re Getting Closer to see what I mean). But when I fail, I return. It’s my most consistent spiritual habit, and as it turns out, it’s nothing special–just what everyone is talking about: mindfulness.
What were your results when using mindfulness for depression?
At times, total transformation of my mood, immediately. Other times, frustration due to just not feeling it.
Is it easy?
For me, yes and no. It does take work, especially for the first several years of practice. It’s a tough habit to create and keep.
How long does the effect last? Does it keep working or does the effect taper off after a few weeks or months?
The mood effect does not taper off at all for me if I practice consistently throughout the day, week or month. And after a break–even a long one–I can pick up right where I left off.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
The answer to this question is different for everyone; there are so very many ways to be mindful.
For some, mindfulness is simply noticing what is and thinking thoughts of appreciation. For others, it is noticing unhelpful thoughts and letting them pass, turning their attention to their present surroundings instead. Right now, for me, my main mindfulness practice is to say a mantra many times throughout the day, as follows: I am sensing my inner body. I’m doing what feels deeply right. This reminds me to come back to myself, then check in with my intuition when making any kind of decision. It works wonderfully for me.
I also say, Thank you, God, and There is time for that, too. (This last because of my Type A accomplishment obsession.) And since I’m not so great at just thinking about trees or children’s smiles or whatever, I think thoughts of appreciation about these things. In other words, instead of saying to myself, Here are the trees. They are green and beautiful, I might say something like, I so appreciate these trees. I am so lucky to live here.
Does that make sense? For me, this subtle difference is huge.
Is this practice scientifically backed?
Yes. There are many books on the benefits of meditation in general, but mindfulness meditation is particularly well-researched. It is used outside spiritual circles–in hospitals, therapy practices and much more.
What’s the downside?
None that I can think of, except that it may take years and years of practice for it to feel natural and easy. At least, it did for me. And I definitely still struggle.