Engraving of owl on a branch

Mindfulness and meditation (2 of 2)

In All articles, Making sense of mindfulness by Norman Lamont

This is the second of two posts about how I use the words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’.

In the last post I talked about how mindfulness isn’t really a special ‘state’ you get into.

Engraving of owl on a branchNeither is meditation a ‘state’. Meditation is a deliberate, intentional practice that you do to cultivate that quality of mindfulness. If you think of meditation as some sort of blissed-out state of perfect equanimity and peace, you’re going to be disappointed when you actually do it. That’s why I hate those pictures that accompany so many mindfulness articles of people cross-legged in suits with their eyes closed and a smug smile on their chops. Also, some people are suspicious of ‘altered states’ and ‘religious states’ of mind and think ‘weird’. Don’t worry.

Anne is a beginner in a mindfulness group; she closes her eyes to meditate, then after a while thinks ‘Hey, it’s not as easy as I thought to just follow my breath.’ She slyly opens her eyes and looks round. Everyone else is sitting still, eyes closed, no hint of struggle or even work. They must be in ‘a state’! She must be doing it wrong. She closes her eyes again and feels a failure. Then, in the discussion afterwards, Anne discovers everyone else did the same. So the teacher explains that this is the universal human experience – your mind wanders – and gives some suggestions of things to do. But these all begin with the acceptance that there’s something to learn here, something that takes practice.

And it isn’t easy at first. Where’s the reward? The reward comes when you find that mindfulness in everyday life becomes easier. You find that it just happens, without any effort from you.  (The reasons are to do with the formations and constant reinforcement of neural pathways – like any kind of practice, but that doesn’t address how it feels.)

One way I like to put it is that mindfulness visits you. And it can do so, because you put out the welcome mat – you practised in your meditation sessions to recognise its presence.