A Stupid-Simple Way to Calm and Focus Your Mind
A skeptic’s journey into mindfulness meditation leads to more introspection, less stress and anxiety, and even a little more happiness
When a remedy for well-being or a blueprint for happiness seems too good to be true, I’m naturally skeptical. Take mindfulness meditation, said to alleviate stress and anxiety and battle depression, dampen fears and control anger, improve sleep, reduce guilt, improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure, tamp down chronic pain and ultimately generate happiness.
Is it really all that?
Considerable research — studies linked above and others — yields a resounding “yes,” at least in the somewhat controlled settings typical of scientific studies.
What about in the real world?
“Like a clear, still pool without ripples, mindfulness perfectly mirrors what’s occurring without distortion,” writes Kristin Neff, PhD, a psychologist and author of numerous books and articles on the benefits of mindfulness and self-compassion. “Rather than becoming lost in our own personal soap opera, mindfulness allows us to view our situation with greater perspective and helps to ensure that we don’t suffer unnecessarily.”
Such gauzy claims had long made meditation seem too touchy-feely for me.
But compelled by the strong science, and convincing arguments from proponents like Neff, a year ago I began investigating the scientific research on mindfulness and studying up on books by gurus and coaches. And for the past six months, after a rocky start followed by a minor epiphany, I’ve been meditating several times a week, sometimes on my own but mostly with an audio guide. Gradually, I’m learning how to apply the meditative training in various situations throughout a typical day, by simply being more mindful of my thoughts and emotions as they arise — the very goal of mindfulness meditation.
The journey has been fruitful. Mindfulness now helps me deal with the stress of real challenges and the anxiety of unidentified worries. It’s making me less judgmental, more aware and accepting of my own flaws, more attentive to the good things in life, and it’s reminding me to be a…