True happiness cannot be bought—this we know—but can it be taught? There is a millennia-old form of meditation that answers this question with a resounding yes.
Mindfulness meditation proposes a simple, yet profoundly radical concept: that we live in the present moment and accept it for what it is. Many of us live our lives waiting for the next good thing to happen; a party, a vacation, a promotion. We push through the minutiae of everyday existence, and we wait in anticipation for the moments that we expect will be joyful.
But what if every moment of life could be filled with joy? What if your minutiae could be a source of happiness? The morning commute, the overdrawn meeting, the barrage of emails that you didn’t need to be cc’d on. Much of life is spent in communion with these moments, and how you perceive them will determine how you experience life itself.
Mindfulness meditation is in the midst of a revival. Endorsed by celebrities, medical professionals, and scholars alike, the tenets of mindfulness are working their way into our collective, Eastern psychology.
The reported benefits of mindfulness are comprehensive to say the very least. Major companies including Google, General Mills, and Intel, are providing mindfulness training to their corporate offices. They report an overall increase in productivity, energy and contentment amongst their employees who have received the training.
Psychologists are incorporating the practice of mindfulness into cognitive therapy, claiming that it not only relieves stress and anxiety, but also serves as a helpful tool for patients who suffer from depression. Pain clinics are even prescribing mindfulness meditation as a method for relieving chronic pain.
A major principle of mindfulness practice is accepting and absorbing the present moment without judgment or criticism. Even if the present moment is a crowded subway and long ride home, the moment can still be an uplifting one. Look around. Observe reality without criticism. Experience this moment in time.
How to begin a meditation practice:
Sit in a comfortable, upright position and direct your full attention to your breath. Empty your mind of any and all distractions. Feel the ground beneath you. Feel the strength of your upper body.
As you do this, take note of a few things as you experience them: Are you keeping still? Are you gently swaying back and forth? What is this moment like?
Step 1: Observe
You will quickly realize that emptying the mind is more difficult a task than it sounds. Your mind will naturally begin to stray. This is okay; this is a part of your mindfulness practice. Simply take note of the thoughts that have appeared.
Step 2: Acknowledge
Don’t judge yourself. Don’t create unwelcome feelings by critiquing the workings of your own mind. Just acknowledge the thoughts that have arisen. This practice of acknowledging without judgment strengthens your ability to accept your internal and external experiences in everyday life.
Step 3: Return
The final step in your meditation is to return to your practice after you have observed and acknowledged your stray thoughts. Refocus. Redirect your attention to your breath and the present moment. Reaffirm your choice to be here right now.
Now do it again. Repeat this process over and over. This is an incredibly effective exercise for your mind. Every time you are confronted with a rogue thought and choose to return to your meditation practice, rather than descend into judgment or distraction, you strengthen your ability to follow through on your intention to be present. Soon this practice will permeate your everyday life and you will find yourself experiencing and perceiving life in a lighter, more positive way.