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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Meditation is Important for Being Mindful

I have spoken to or taught many groups about mindful living, mindfulness in the workplace, meditation, and mindful leadership.  Something common to all participants is that most are not willing to begin a practice of meditation any time soon.

Even after a 4-hour workshop, I ask how many people will begin a meditation practice, and most people say they think it's a good practice but they don't think they will begin one (and the many excuses begin).  I offer a free 30-day meditation challenge, and typically about 25% of the participants open most or all emails.

Why is this?

Well, meditation is a habit, like anything else.  It's difficult to quit sugar, begin an exercise program, or consistently take five minutes at the beginning of your work day to plan the day... when these habits are not already habits.  So it is not surprising that taking on a meditation habit is just as difficult.

The other thing I have found interesting is that many people feel they are already mindful.  They feel happy and content enough and do not think they need to meditate because they already 'got it'.  And maybe they do already 'have it'.  In some cases, though, these same people complain, are too busy to spend time with loved ones, are not living the life they want, or live in chaos.  Often, they are operating on autopilot.  The problem is that they do not know it and society is such that this has become the norm.

A runner does not run a marathon without training.  A hockey player does not make it to the NHL or even the community recreational team without practicing skating and shooting skills.  A guitar player does not make the band without practice.

AND.... a mindful person does not become mindful without practicing.

Here's the thing.  Mindfulness IS a practice.  You don't learn it from reading a book or watching a movie or listening to a speaker.  It is learned from your own personal practice, and it is unique to you.  It is experiential. There is no other way to learn it.  And it is a life long way of being.  You don't learn it, put the book down, and then be it.  Mindfulness is the practice itself.

There are a variety of ways to practice, of course, such as yoga, tai chi, journaling, or meditation.  Yoga is actually a form of meditation.  It means unity of mind and body.  The physical aspect of yoga is really a preparation for meditation.  Tai chi is similar.  It is meditation in movement.  Journaling is really a journey into your mind, so, in my opinion, it is a form of meditation as well.

There are many forms of meditation itself - mindfulness meditation being one of them.  It develops mindfulness skills.  Mindfulness meditation trains your brain to become aware of moments, of what is happening, how you are feeling, what the impact of your words or actions are, or how others are responding and feeling.  Mindfulness meditation develops concentration and insight.

Trying to live mindfully without meditating.... well... it is akin to running a marathon without training.  It wouldn't go so well.  You likely would not make it.  Your muscles and heart would not be able to support that distance.  If you tried, your heart will be stressed and you may injure yourself.  This is like saying you are mindful without having a practice.  Your mindful muscles cannot support it because they are not trained to do so.  Hence, the result may be stress, lack of focus, disharmony, and potentially injured relationships.

So we practice.  We meditate.

Mindful meditation does not always feel blissful, although it can.  When we meditate, we dive into all the layers that have covered up our true selves.  We do not always like what we discover.  But mindful meditation helps us become friends with all the things we like and all the things we do not like.  That practice helps us be truly mindful.

Without meditation, you cannot discover these parts of yourself.

Even with practice, though, being mindful does not mean being perfect.  In fact, we begin to see ourselves more clearly as we explore and investigate, and we realize our imperfections.  It is when we can see these, accept them, and continue on the path of mindfulness that we find perfection.  When we are mindful, we continue to make mistakes.  We continue to react when we'd rather respond.  We continue to have human emotions such as jealousy, resentment, and unworthiness.  However, when we are truly mindful, and we meditate, we have tools to become aware of these things and allow them to pass.  We will always have 'imperfections'.  Perfection is in our attitudes and responses and ability to be peaceful in the most chaotic situations.

Meditation is the tool for doing all of this.