Mindfulness For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

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About the Author

Shamash Alidina has been teaching mindfulness since 1998. He was invited to experiment with a short mindfulness exercise whilst studying in a ‘practical philosophy’ evening class, and caught the mindfulness bug! He was amazed at the power of mindfulness to transform his state of mind, both during the meditation itself, and through exercises in day to day life. He decided to dedicate his time to learn and teach mindfulness to others. He taught mindfulness to groups of adults, and then additionally taught in a children’s school in London for eight years which integrated mindfulness and meditation into the curriculum. He’s been working in the field of mindfulness on a full-time basis since 2010.

Shamash formally trained at Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness in Wales. He runs his own successful training organisation, ShamashAlidina.com, to introduce mindfulness to the general public, as well as training mindfulness teachers and business organisations, both in-person and often through live online learning. He has trained in managing workplace health with the Health and Safety Executive and regularly coaches executives in stress reduction. He has taught mindfulness all over the world, including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Europe.

Shamash has been interviewed by many national newspapers and magazines and has appeared on radio and television. He has featured in mindfulness campaigns, and regularly blogs on his main passions: mindfulness, compassion, wisdom and happiness. He currently lives in London.

Dedication

This book is dedicated to you, dear reader. May the practice of mindfulness be of benefit to you, and your loved ones.

Author’s Acknowledgments

I would like to say a special thank you to my editor Iona Everson who I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with — I’m proud to have had her insightful eye over the production of this second edition. I would like to thank Jennifer Prytherch and Nicole Hermitage who originally commissioning me to write the first edition of this book. And I would also like to wholeheartedly extend my thanks to the whole production team at Wiley — this book is certainly a team effort!

I’d like to thank all my family members. In particular, thanks to my brother, Aneesh, who first suggested the idea of Mindfulness For Dummies, and my parents Manju and Fateh, who support me throughout my life.

Big thanks to my wonderful friends for their support (together with why I think they’re great!): Joelle (bright enthusiasm), Vicky (glowing positivity), Michal (visionary outlook and kindness), Patrycja (compassionate being), Alma (my inspiration), Garry (full of laughter), Marc (so wise and fun), Harpal (friendly and funny), Oskar (pure spiritual), Maneesh (big thinker), Joe (friendly and fun), Richard (makes things happen), BKC (deep thinker), Sid (keeping it chilled), Leroy (hilarious) and Waqas (a great friend). I don’t have a chance to see some of you often, but rest assured, I often think of you. And apologies to any of you I’ve forgotten — it just means mindfulness has not improved my memory!

Gratitude to my Chief Technology Officer and friend Paul who has helped me SO much with turning my passion into my work. And to Teresa, my friend and Chief Happiness Officer, who you’d chat to if you contact us.

I would like to thank Steven Hickman, Director of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, for his support of my work, and for writing a beautiful foreword to this book.

Finally I’d like to thank the teachers who continue to inspire me with mindfulness, wisdom and compassion through their talks and writing: The Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mark Williams, Steven Hayes, Russ Harris, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta. Thank you for inspiring others to look deep within and for sharing the beauty of this mysterious gift we have — life itself.

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments at http://dummies.custhelp.com. For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at (001) 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial and Vertical Websites

Project Editor: Iona Everson

Commissioning Editor: Ben Kemble

Proofreader: Mary White

Publisher: Miles Kendall

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Melissa Cossell

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Chapter 1

Discovering Mindfulness

In This Chapter

arrow Defining mindfulness

arrow Discovering the benefits of mindfulness

arrow Exploring the journey of mindfulness

Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, infused with qualities like kindness, curiosity and acceptance.

Through being mindful, you discover how to live in the present moment in an enjoyable way rather than worrying about the past or being concerned about the future. The past has already gone and can’t be changed. The future is yet to arrive and is completely unknown. The present moment, this very moment now, is ultimately the only moment you have. Mindfulness shows you how to live in this moment in a harmonious way. You find out how to make the present moment a more wonderful moment to be in – the only place in which you can create, decide, listen, think, smile, act or live.

You can develop and deepen mindfulness through doing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis, from a few minutes to as long as you want. This chapter introduces you to mindfulness and mindfulness meditation and welcomes you aboard a fascinating journey.

Understanding the Meaning of Mindfulness

Mindfulness was originally developed in ancient times, and can be found in Eastern and Western cultures. Mindfulness is a translation of the ancient Indian word Sati, which means awareness, attention and remembering:

  • Awareness. This is an aspect of being human that makes you conscious of your experiences. Without awareness, nothing would exist for you.
  • Attention. Attention is a focused awareness; mindfulness training develops your ability to move and sustain your attention wherever and however you choose.
  • Remembering. This aspect of mindfulness is about remembering to pay attention to your experience from moment to moment. Being mindful is easy to forget. The word ‘remember’ originally comes from the Latin re ‘again’ and memorari ‘be mindful of’.

Say that you want to practise mindfulness to help you cope with stress. At work, you think about your forthcoming presentation and begin to feel stressed and nervous. By becoming aware of this, you remember to focus your mindful attention to your own breathing rather than constantly worrying. Feeling your breath with a sense of warmth and gentleness helps slowly to calm you down. See Chapter 6 for more about mindful breathing.

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, who first developed mindfulness in a therapeutic setting, says:

‘Mindfulness can be cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, non-judgementally and openheartedly as possible.’

You can break down the meaning even further:

  • Paying attention. To be mindful, you need to pay attention, whatever you choose to attend to.
  • Present moment. The reality of being in the here and now means you just need to be aware of the way things are, as they are now. Your experience is valid and correct just as it is.
  • Non-reactively. Normally, when you experience something, you automatically react to that experience according to your past conditioning. For example, if you think, ‘I still haven’t finished my work,’ you react with thoughts, words and actions in some shape or form.

    Mindfulness encourages you to respond to your experience rather than react to thoughts. A reaction is automatic and gives you no choice; a response is deliberate and considered action. (Chapter 12 delves deeper into mindful responses.)

  • Non-judgementally. The temptation is to judge experience as good or bad, something you like or dislike. I want to feel bliss; I don’t like feeling afraid. Letting go of judgements helps you to see things as they are rather than through the filter of your personal judgements based on past conditioning.
  • Openheartedly. Mindfulness isn’t just an aspect of mind. Mindfulness is of the heart as well. To be open-hearted is to bring a quality of kindness, compassion, warmth and friendliness to your experience. For example, if you notice yourself thinking, ‘I’m useless at meditation,’ you discover how to let go of this critical thought and gently turn your attention back to the focus of your meditation, whatever that may be. For more on attitudes to cultivate for mindfulness, see Chapter 4.

Looking at Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a particular type of meditation that’s been well researched and tested in clinical settings.

Meditation isn’t thinking about nothing. Meditation is paying attention in a systematic way to whatever you decide to focus on, which can include awareness of your thoughts. By listening to your thoughts, you discover their habitual patterns. Your thoughts have a massive impact on your emotions and the decisions you make, so being more aware of them is helpful.

In mindfulness meditation, you typically focus on one, or a combination, of the following:

  • The feeling of your own breathing
  • Any one of your senses
  • Your body
  • Your thoughts or emotions
  • Whatever is most predominant in your awareness

remember.eps This book and accompanying downloadable audio (MP3s) include guided meditations.

Mindfulness meditation comes in two distinct types:

  • Formal meditation. This is a meditation where you intentionally take time out in your day to embark on a meditative practice. Time out gives you an opportunity to deepen your mindfulness practice and understand more about your mind, its habitual tendencies and how to be mindful for a sustained period of time, with a sense of kindness and curiosity towards yourself and your experience. Formal meditation is mind training. Chapter 6 contains more about formal meditation.
  • Informal meditation. This is where you go into a focused and meditative state of mind as you go about your daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, walking to work, talking to a friend, driving – anything at all. Think of it as everyday mindfulness. In this way, you continue to deepen your ability to be mindful, and train your mind to stay in the present moment rather than habitually straying into the past or future. Informal mindfulness meditation means you can rest in a mindful awareness at any time of day, whatever you’re doing. See Chapter 8 for more ways to be mindful informally.

remember.eps When I say ‘practise’ with regard to meditation, I don’t mean a rehearsal. To practise meditation means to engage in the meditation exercise – not practising in the sense of aiming one day to get the meditation perfect. You don’t need to judge your meditation or perfect it in any way. Your experience is your experience.

Using Mindfulness to Help You

You know how you get lost in thought? Most of the day, as you go about your daily activities, your mind is left to think whatever it wants. You’re operating on ‘automatic pilot’ (explained more fully in Chapter 5). But some of your automatic thoughts may be unhelpful to you, or perhaps you’re so stuck in those thoughts you don’t actually experience the world around you. For example, you go for a walk in the park to relax, but your mind is lost in thoughts about your next project. First, you’re not really living in the present moment, and second, you’re making yourself more stressed, anxious or depressed if your thoughts are unhelpful. (Chapters 12 and 13 explore overcoming unhelpful thoughts.)

Mindfulness isn’t focused on fixing problems. Mindfulness emphasises acceptance first, and change may or may not come later. So if you suffer from anxiety, mindfulness shows you how to accept the feeling of anxiety rather than denying or fighting the feeling, and through this approach change naturally comes about. As an old saying goes: ‘What we resist, persists.’ Mindfulness says: ‘What you accept, transforms.’

This section explores the many ways in which mindfulness can help you.

warning.eps In mindfulness, acceptance means to acknowledge your present-moment experience. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation or giving up.

Allowing space to heal

When you have a physical illness, it can be a distressing time. Your condition may be painful or even life-threatening. Perhaps your illness means you’re no longer able to do the simple things in life you took for granted before, like run up the stairs or look after yourself in an independent way. Illness can shake you to your very core. How can you cope with this? How can you build your inner strength to manage the changes that take place, without being overwhelmed and losing all hope?

High levels of stress, particularly over a long period of time, have been clearly shown to reduce the strength of your immune system. Perhaps you went down with flu after a period of high stress. Research on care-givers who experience high levels of stress for long periods of time shows that they have a weaker immune system in response to diseases like flu.

Mindfulness reduces stress, and for this reason is one way of managing illness. By reducing your stress you improve the effectiveness of your immune system, and this may help increase the rate of healing from the illness you suffer, especially if the illness is stress-related.

remember.eps Mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety, pain and depression, and boost energy, creativity, the quality of relationships and your overall sense of wellbeing. The more you do mindfulness, the better: monks who’ve practised mindfulness all their lives have levels of wellbeing, measured in their brains, way above anything scientists thought was possible.

Chapter 14 is all about how mindfulness can help to heal the body.

Enjoying greater relaxation

Mindfulness can be a very relaxing experience. As you discover how to rest with an awareness of your breathing or the sounds around you, you may begin to feel calmer.

However, the aim of mindfulness is not relaxation. Relaxation is one of the welcome by-products.

Mindfulness is the development of awareness of your inner and outer experiences, whatever they are, with a sense of kindness, curiosity and acceptance. You may experience very deep states of relaxation when practising mindfulness, or you may not. If you don’t, this doesn’t mean you’re practising mindfulness incorrectly. You just need a little patience.

Why is relaxation not the aim of mindfulness? Try being totally relaxed for the next few minutes. What if you can’t relax? If you aim for relaxation, you’re going to succeed or fail. If you feel you’re failing, you’re just going to become more tense and stressed, which is exactly what you don’t want. In mindfulness, you can’t fail, because you don’t have some experience you have to achieve. You simply practise paying attention to whatever your experience is, as best you can, and whatever happens, happens. You gain an understanding from your experience. Mindfulness is very forgiving!

Table 1-1 shows the difference between relaxation and mindfulness exercises.

Table 1-1 Relaxation versus Mindfulness

Exercise

Aim

Method

Mindfulness

To pay attention to your experience from moment to moment, as best you can, with kindness, curiosity and acknowledgment

To observe your experience and shift your attention back to its focus if you drift into thought, without self-criticism if you can

Relaxation

To make muscles relaxed and to feel calm

Various, such as tightening and letting go of muscles

Improving productivity

To be mindful, you usually need to do one thing at a time. When walking, you just walk. When listening, you just listen. When writing, you just write. By practising formal and informal mindfulness meditation, you’re training your brain, with mindful attitudes like kindness, curiosity and acknowledgement.

So, if you’re writing a report, you focus on that activity as much as you can, without overly straining yourself. Each time your mind wanders off to another thought, you notice what you were thinking about (curiosity), and then without criticising (remember you’re being kind to yourself), you guide your attention back to the writing. So, you finish your report sooner (less time spent thinking about other stuff) and the work is probably of better quality (because you gave the report your full attention). The more you can focus on what you’re doing, the more you can get done. Wow – mindfulness can help you improve your productivity!

remember.eps You can’t suddenly decide to focus on your work and then become focused. The power of attention isn’t just a snap decision you make. You can train attention, just as you can train your biceps in a gym. Mindfulness is gym for the mind. However, you don’t need to make a huge effort as you do when working out. When training the mind to be attentive, you need to be gentle or the mind becomes less attentive. This is why mindfulness requires kindness. If you’re too harsh with yourself, your mind rebels.

Awareness also means that you notice where energy is being wasted. If you have a habit of worrying or thinking negatively, you can become aware of such thoughts and learn to stop them.

Stress is the biggest cause of absenteeism (not turning up to work). Mindfulness is one way of managing your stress levels and therefore increasing productivity, because you’re more likely to stay healthy and be able to work in the first place. (Perhaps that’s not a benefit, after all!)

Your work also becomes more enjoyable if you’re mindful and when you’re enjoying something you’re more creative and productive. If you’re training your mind to be curious about experience rather than bored, you can be curious about whatever you engage in.

Eventually, through experience, you begin to notice that work flows through you, rather than you doing the work. You find yourself feeding the children or making that presentation. You lose the sense of ‘me’ doing this and become more relaxed and at ease. When this happens, the work is effortless, often of a very high quality and thoroughly enjoyable – which sounds like a nice kind of productivity, don’t you think?

Developing greater wisdom

Wisdom is regarded highly in Eastern and Western traditions. Socrates and Plato considered philosophy as literally the love of wisdom (philo-sophia). According to Eastern traditions, wisdom is your essential nature and leads to a deep happiness for yourself and to helping others to find that happiness within themselves too.

You can access greater wisdom. Mindfulness leads to wisdom, because you learn to handle your own thoughts and emotions skilfully. Just because you have a negative thought, you don’t believe the thought to be true. And when you experience tricky emotions like sadness, anxiety or frustration, you’re able to process them using mindfulness rather than being controlled by them.

With your greater emotional balance, you’re able to listen deeply to others and create fulfilling, lasting relationships. With your clear mind, you’re able to make better decisions. With your open heart, you can be happier and healthier.

Mindfulness leads to wisdom because of your greater level of awareness. You become aware of how you relate to yourself, others and the world around you. With this heightened awareness, you’re in a much better place to make informed choices. Rather than living automatically like a robot, you’re consciously awake and you take action based on reflection and what’s in the best interest of everyone, including yourself.

I consider the Dalai Lama as an example of a wise person. He’s kind and compassionate, and thinks about the welfare of others. He seeks to reduce suffering and increase happiness in humanity as a whole. He isn’t egocentric, laughs a lot and doesn’t seem overwhelmed with all his duties and the significant losses he’s experienced. People seem to thoroughly enjoy spending time with him. He certainly seems to live in a mindful way.

Think about who you consider to be wise people. What are their qualities? I’d guess you find them to be conscious and aware of their actions, rather than habitual and lost in their own thoughts – in other words, they’re mindful!

Discovering your observer self

Mindfulness can lead to an interesting journey of personal discovery. The word person comes from the Latin word persona, originally meaning a character in a drama, or a mask. The word discovery means to dis-cover or to uncover. So in this sense, personal discovery is about uncovering your mask.

As Shakespeare said: ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ Through mindfulness practice, you begin to see your roles, your persona or mask(s) as part of what it means to be you. You still do everything you did before: you can keep helping people or making money or whatever you like doing, but you know that this is only one way of seeing things, one dimension of your being.

You probably wear all sorts of different masks for different roles that you play. You may be a parent, daughter or son, partner, employee. Each of these roles asks you to fulfil certain obligations. You may not be aware that it’s possible to put all the masks down through mindfulness practice.

remember.eps Mindfulness is an opportunity to just be yourself. When practising mindfulness meditation, you sometimes have clear experiences of a sense of being. You may feel a deep, undivided sense of peace, of stillness and calm. Your physical body, which usually feels so solid, sometimes fades into the background of your awareness, and you have a sense of connection with your surroundings.

Some people become very attached to these experiences and try hard to repeat them, as if they’re ‘getting closer’ to something. However, over time you come to realise that even these seemingly blissful experiences also come and go. Enjoy them when they come, and then let them go.

Through the practice of mindfulness, you may come to discover that you’re a witness to life’s experiences. Thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations come and go in your mindfulness practice, and yet a part of you is just observing this all happening – awareness itself. This is something very simple that everyone can see and experience. In fact, being naturally yourself is so simple, you easily overlook it.

According to Eastern philosophy, as this witness, you’re perfect, whole and complete just as you are. You may not feel as if you’re perfect, because you identify with your thoughts and emotions, which are always changing. Ultimately you don’t need to do anything to attain this natural state, because you are this natural state all the time – right here and right now.

For these reasons, mindfulness is not about self-improvement. At the core of your being, you’re perfect just the way you are! Mindfulness exercises and meditations are just to help train your brain to be more focused and calm, and your heart to be warm and open. Mindfulness is not about changing you: it’s about realising that you’re perfectly beautiful within, just the way you are.

wisewords.eps Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth: Create a Better Life, says:

What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.’

Once you discover that you’re the witness of all experience, you’re less disturbed by the ups and downs of life. This understanding offers you a way to a happier life. It’s that little bit easier to go with the flow and see life as an adventure rather than just a series of struggles.

Starting the Mindfulness Adventure

Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, but the adventure of a lifetime. Imagine mindfulness as being like a journey on a boat. You’re an explorer looking for new and undiscovered land. Along the way I’ll explain how mindfulness mirrors such a journey.

Beginning the voyage

The journey begins, and you set sail. You’re not sure what you’re going to find, and you may not be too sure why you’re going in the first place, but that’s part of the excitement and adventure. You may think that you’re finally doing something you really enjoy and can gain from. This is what you wanted to do, and you’re on the boat now. At the same time, you’re a bit anxious about what may happen – what if things don’t work out?

The beginning of the mindfulness journey may feel like this for you. You may be thinking, ‘Finally, I’ve found what I need to do,’ and you’re keen to find out how to do it, being curious and in anticipation. At the same time, you may feel unsure that you can ‘do’ mindfulness: you suspect you don’t have the patience/focus/discipline/inner strength. You have ideas about the journey of mindfulness. At the moment you may suffer from x and y, and after reading this book you want to have reduced those painful feelings. You may have clear goals you want to achieve and hope mindfulness is going to help you to achieve those goals.

remember.eps Having a long-term vision as to what you hope to achieve from mindfulness is helpful, but concentrating too much on goals is unhelpful. Mindfulness is ultimately a goalless activity. Mindfulness is process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. You’re not actually going anywhere. This is the paradox of mindfulness. If you get overly obsessed with the goals, you focus on the goal rather than the process. However, mindfulness is the journey itself. You aren’t going to reach the present moment sometime in the future: you can only be in the present moment now. More important than anything else is how you meet this moment. If you can train yourself to be open, curious, accepting, kind and aware of this moment, the future takes care of itself. So, as you steer your boat, keep aware and awake. See Chapter 3 for more about vision in mindfulness.

Overcoming challenges

As you continue your mindfulness journey, before long the initial excitement begins to wear off. You experience rough seas and pirates! Some days, you wish you hadn’t started this journey in the first place. Perhaps you should have just stayed at home.

Regularly practising mindfulness can be challenging. What was new and exciting to begin with no longer feels fresh. You may sense a resistance to sit down and meditate, even for a short period, but without knowing why. Don’t worry: this is very common. When you overcome the initial resistance, you may discover the practice isn’t as bad as you imagined meditating to be. As soon as you start, you feel okay and even enjoy it. You also feel great afterwards, because you managed to overcome the initial resistance of your mind to do something for your own health and wellbeing.

Each time you struggle with the thoughts and feelings in your mindfulness practice, you’re generally not accepting or acknowledging them as the natural state of your mind. Lack of acknowledgement usually means criticism of yourself or of the whole process of mindfulness. If you persevere, you discover slowly but surely the importance of accepting your thoughts and emotions and the situation you’re in and not blaming anyone for that situation, including yourself. In mindfulness, acceptance always comes first; change follows.

Another common challenge is understanding the right attitude to bring to your mindfulness practice. Unhelpful but common attitudes include:

  • I’m going do this and must get it right.
  • I should focus 100 per cent.
  • I’m going to try extremely hard.

Having done a bit of mindfulness meditation, you get thoughts like ‘I can’t focus at all’ or ‘My mind was all over the place. I can’t do it’ or ‘That was a bad meditation.’ However, as you continue your journey of mindfulness, your attitudes begin to shift towards thoughts such as:

  • I’m going to bring an attitude of kindness and curiosity, and acknowledge whatever my experience is, as best I can.
  • I won’t try too hard, nor will I give up. I’ll stay somewhere in the middle.
  • My mind is bound to wander off. That’s okay and part of being mindful.
  • There’s no such thing as a bad meditation.

As your attitudes change, mindful exercises and meditations becomes easier, because you’re bombarded by fewer judgemental thoughts during and after the practice. And even if you do have judgemental thoughts, you treat them like all the other thoughts you experience and let them go as best you can.

Exploring the journey of a lifetime

After sailing for a long time, you finally see some land in the distance that’s more beautiful than anything you’ve seen in your exploration. You decide to stop when you get there. The land looks so new and fresh, but at the same time very familiar and cosy. As you draw closer, you discover that you’re approaching your own house. Of all the places you’ve been and all the adventures you’ve had, you feel most at home here, the place you left! However, the journey hasn’t been fruitless. You’ve discovered much along the way and had to travel that journey to discover what you most treasure.

Ultimately in mindfulness, you realise that you don’t need to search for anything at all. Everything is okay just the way things are. You’re already home. Each moment is magical, new and fresh. Each moment is a treasure never to be repeated again, ever. Your awareness is always shining, lighting up the world around you and inside you effortlessly. Awareness has no off or on switch: awareness is always effortlessly on. Although you experience ups and downs, pleasures and pain, you no longer hang onto things as much, and you therefore suffer less. This isn’t so much a final goal as an ongoing journey of a lifetime. Life continues to unfold in its own way, and you begin to grasp how to flow with life.

wisewords.eps Buddha is quoted as saying:

‘The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.’

The journey of mindfulness is to discover how to live this way.