No need to stuff your sack with maps to guide you on an epic quest, no need to lace up your hiking boots or sling climbing ropes over your shoulder, for a trek into the mountainous unknown, and there’s nothing that needs to be cooked in anticipation of a long journey.
The Benefits of Mindfulness aren’t hidden from you, nor are they part of a puzzle waiting to be solved. Most benefits of taking on a mindfulness practice are always close at hand, just waiting for you, to see with your attention and awareness as you move from one moment into the next.
Everyday life can be complicated and stressful. The pressure of everyday demands seem to meet us at every turn, and just when we catch a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, the power goes out. 🙂
A natural question we all hear when extolling the virtues of things we do in our life is, what are the benefits of practice? Or maybe, are their tangible rewards from all the hours of practice? My favorite is, what do I get out of it?
No matter how many glowing reports of practicing meditation or developing a mindfulness practice people will be skeptical, and they should be. It makes no sense to jump off a cliff if you’re not sure deep water’s waiting to meet your tumbling self.
Below I’ve listed 10 benefits I’ve experienced from sitting in meditation over the years. And of course your mileage will vary depending on how much time and attention you put into it.
Each of us will find a practice that works best for us, it could be with a group of experienced meditators (recommended) or we could practice solo because there is no nearby group (that’s me). But either way being consistent is the key to the whole turnip.
Serenity (being calm)
The first thought that come rushing into my mind when I think of serenity is of standing atop a mountain marveling at the tranquil view all around me. Serenity is an all-encompassing feeling of well being, yet its also not a feeling at all, but more like the worlds worries and hindrances envelop you in a weightless awareness. Does that make sense?
One of the foundational benefits of mindfulness is a growing calmness you’ll experience, as your body, mind and even your spirit become tuned into the deepening breadth and silence of your thoughts.
Over time you’ll abide in a calm no matter what is popping up in the external world.
Flexibility (open to change)
Running into both internal (mind) and external (world) hindrances each and everyday is as certain as the sun rising each morning, even sitting behind a cloud, you know it’s there.
And when we find ourselves in new situations the best thing we can do is leave our assumptions and judgements at the door. Enter a situation with flexibility and often you’ll see the hindrance disappear before it even appears.
Mindfulness practice helps us develop an awareness of our patterns of behavior, This awareness of our behavior gives us the opportunity to change on the fly. This new found awareness allows us to meet each hindrance and demand wisely, and with versatility.
Attention resides at the heart of mindfulness practice and grows just like any muscle that is exercised.
Once your attention muscle starts to grow you’ll find that you can not only stay focused, but also find it easier to bring yourself back to original focus when you realize you’ve become distracted.
Today we are inundated with cell calls, texts, email, TV, video games, and even occasionally other people wanting to talk with us. 🙂 What can we do to coral our attention and bring our focus back to the here and now. That’s where we want it, right?
One huge answer to owning our attention and focus is observing your breath as you sit in meditation or while you mindfully take a daily walk in nature or around your neighborhood.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly attention and focus grow with consistent practice.
Kindness (embracing compassion)
Kindness is one of those traits nearly everyone thinks they express toward others, but in reality we mostly only show kindness with people we agree with or people in our group, people in our tribe.
Embracing compassion and showing kindness requires an awareness of our own feelings, emotions and thinking. Without awareness of what’s happening inside ourselves we rarely can see how often we judge others harshly and without a tinge of kindness.
In 1968 Joe South wrote and sang a song titled Walk A Mile In My Shoes. It’s a nice little tune and gets to the heart of accepting others for who they are and not who we want them to be, that’s the crux of kindness.
Just walk a mile in my shoesWalk A Mile In My Shoes – Joe South
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes
Kindness is proceeded by awareness of how our own thoughts and ego have painted the picture of the world. If you find yourself labeling someone you don’t know, tell yourself “Shoes,” as a way of reminding you to walk a mile in their shoes before you claim to understand them.
Fluidity (adaptable movement)
Imagine walking into a roomful of people you’ve known for years, known for decades even. Now further imagine introducing yourself to each person separately for the first time. Make sense?
When we step out of preconceptions of who someone is we get a giant opportunity to see them for the first time, and that little feat can be repeated over and over when we approach people and places with a fluid approach.
Approaching a place or person as if for the first time requires us to see things objectively and this in turn erases much of the narrative we have crashing around in our mind about places and people.
Embracing fluidity is much like walking atop those little paper dance steps instructors use to teach us how to move our feet. When learning to dance you just don’t know where the next paper foot will appear and it’s the same with people and places. We don’t know who a person is when we’ve painted them with an old narrative.
Mindfulness practice gives us fluidity to see everything new, again and again.
More Benefits of Mindfulness
Emotions (observation of)
It may be hard to believe, but emotions are thoughts. And mindfulness practice will help you learn to observe both thoughts and emotions both before and during their occurrence. Our emotions are sensations, reactions and manifestations of our minds activity.
Here’s an example from my own experience. When I find myself angry, say at a driver who cuts me off from a parking spot, I’ll mumble a few choice words and my shoulders will tighten into steel. Additionally my fingers tighten around the steering wheel like vices and my thoughts will start to create many different but ultimately inappropriate things I’d like to do to that driver.
Something occurs and we react almost immediately with thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. These reactions are part of the same circuit and since it’s unwise to scream, hit or throw something at the object of our anger we stew in our own righteous juices.
It does not matter if our anger is based on our being right or wrong, we still experience all the overwhelming sensations, emotions and thoughts. Sometimes we stay caught in the same story for days, or longer.
But what if before everything comes to a boil we could rearrange our thinking and avoid most if not all of the sensations, emotions and thoughts in the first place?
Emotional overload (stress) is one of the prominent reasons people seek to learn mindfulness in an effort to handle all the energy and time wasted stewing over things that ultimately, are of little or no importance.
Mindfulness practice can help us recognize how most things that set us off are not really important and will pass quickly if we decided to not engage with them. If we step back and respond with a shrug of our shoulders and move on with life, how happy we might be. Make sense?
Know Yourself (notice decisions)
I think it’s fair to say that we all make decisions we later regret having made. We may have been in a hurry or maybe did something to please someone else. There are a myriad reasons and stories of unfathomable decisions people have made.
One of the benefits of mindfulness is little by little we began to clearly see the decisions we are about to make, and a little bit of breathing room appears between the urge to do something and the actual execution of the decision.
It’s that little bit of space that allows us to ask the question, is this what I really want to do? Or maybe we get a glimpse of the long term consequences that’ll come raining down on our head many years down the road.
The little space that opens up gives us a glimpse of who we are at that moment and allows us to decide who we want to be when that moment moves on to the next moment.
Think of the moment when you are about to make a decision to do or not do something as a Polaroid snap shot.Now think of the potential decision as a 3rd Polaroid snap shot hanging on a line. Now carefully move the 2 Polaroids apart ( a wee bit) and add another Polaroid titled breathing room.
Practicing mindfulness consistently will give you space to know yourself and see your decisions before you set them in motion.
Distractions (see the cravings)
One of my favorite outcomes from sitting in meditation and practicing mindfulness throughout the day is the way distractions become less and less distracting in my life.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes churning and calling out our names constantly. Inside our mind our thoughts flash like neon signs, and outside our mind the noise calling us to do something or buy something or fix something seemingly is never ending.
But distractions lose most of their power when we see them for what they are, distractions. All that noise and cravings have only the power we give them. Distractions will whither and die on the vine if we don’t pick them. Right?
Healthier Body (tuned-up)
This is one of the benefits of mindfulness that often gets overlooked, but think about it for a moment.
If as we become more aware of our decisions and choices we’ll gravitate toward healthier choices in eating and exercise almost automatically. Of course it’s not automatic, but if you sit in the space between choices chances are you’ll come out healthier.
Healthier Mind (joyful neurons)
A list of mindfulness benefits wouldn’t be complete without a sentence or two about joyful neurons, now would it.
Focusing our mind on what’s going on in the here and now gives us a new perspective of how and why we do and live our lives.That’s something to shout about, and shout loudly.
As we move toward accepting things as they are by not attaching to them with preconceptions we start to see a cloud of stress, worry and anxiety lift from our mind. Once we recognize the mind clearing we’ll chill and our neurons will becomes happier.
Little by little our path once littered with worry and fret will become clear and wide. Happy neurons, happier life.
An old saying from a group I met with for a few years was, Take What You Can Use And Leave The Rest. Take from this list what you can use, and chew on it for a while. Use it as a spring board to practice.
Shunryu Suzuki a Zen monk who was one of the original group of explorers bringing mindfulness to the west once said about enlightenment, “It’s something, nothing special, but something.”
When we sit and learn to see clearly our expectations and assumptions about others and about ourself fall away. What we are left with is our daily reality without all the thoughts, judgements, fears and opinions layered on top of it.
It’s something, nothing special, but something.Shunryu Suzuki
And what would a list of benefits be without a disclaimer? Everyone’s experience of sitting in meditation and mindfulness is as different as each of us from the other. And the benefits of practice occur differently is each individual person. It’s always good to start out with a qualified teacher and or group. And if there are no instructors available seek out solid advice from others with experience. Mindfulness practice is not a substitute for professional care in those who may be struggling with mental health issues. Please, if you are struggling seek qualified professional help.