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Meditation, Mindfulness, and Letting Go: What Do They Mean?

Meditation, Mindfulness, and Letting Go: What Do They Mean?

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Published by Charles Day
This article explicitly defines meditation, mindfulness and letting go, explains why they have become buzz words in mainstream culture, and details how they accomplish their scientifically demonstrated benefits.
This article explicitly defines meditation, mindfulness and letting go, explains why they have become buzz words in mainstream culture, and details how they accomplish their scientifically demonstrated benefits.

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Published by: Charles Day on Oct 06, 2013
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Meditation, Mindfulness, and Letting Go: What Do They Mean?Charles Daywww.DesMoinesMeditation.org charlesday1@mchsi.com Meditation and mindfulness have become buzz words in mainstream culture asprofound practices that accelerate psychological and spiritual growth. But what exactlydo they mean and how do they accomplish this? Following are my thoughts as a retiredpsychologist who has been meditating for over 45 years in the US, India, and Thailand.What is mindfulness? It is intentionally giving full attention to present momentexperience, to experiencing the continuously changing now moment-by-moment. Whilethis may sound simple, it is quite difficult to remain mindful of only one intended objector subject for very long, simply because the mind so readily reacts to and is distractedby the multitude of ever-changing external and internal stimuli: sights, sounds, smells,tastes, tactile touch and temperature, and the mental thoughts, feelings, and imagestriggered by previous experiences.What is meditation? While there are many types of meditation, what I call basicmeditation - one that minimizes rather than utilizes cognitive processes - is afundamental practice that cultivates the skill and trains the mind to be more relaxed andmindful and, perhaps most importantly, to recognize and let go of the distractions andconditioned response patterns that impede the ability to sustain mindfulness and remaincalm and relaxed. To repeat: Meditation trains the mind to sustain mindfulness andequanimity by learning to recognize and let go of distractions.The ability of recognize and let go of unwanted, negative, and harmful thoughts andfeelings before reacting to them enables the individual in daily life to intentionally andspontaneously think, speak, and act in wiser, more comfortable, efficient, effective,peaceful, and compassionate ways.Practicing mindfulness several times daily by returning the attention to the nowfacilitates learning to stay present, but it is the disciplined and regular practice of basicmeditation that leads to an individual's increased ability to experience clarity of thinking,lovingkindness, compassion for oneself and others, happiness in the success and goodfortune of others, equanimity, and a generalized enjoyment of life. And many meditatorsreport having spiritual experiences and realizations of what is called unityconsciousness, enlightenment, or union with God.Meditation practice for laypersons is not so much about learning to "concentrate" or toattain the rarified states of higher consciousness that were historically sought by monkswho led lives of quiet simplicity in secluded monastic settings. The daily lives of ordinaryfolks are filled with multiple activities and responsibilities, epitomized by thecontemporary phrase "multi-tasking."
 
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 As a result, while laypersons may experience periods of concentration and bliss,meditation for most is a practice that trains the everyday active mind to simply staymore relaxed, mindful, and compassionate and to let go of the distractions that interferewith attending to an intended object or subject. Many individuals experience thesepositive benefits even more profoundly in their relationships and daily lives than in themeditation sessions themselves.How are these benefits accomplished? How to meditate: More than 60 years of scientific research shows that the basic meditation practices which produce theseresults share two common instructions: First, the meditator is told to focus for as long aspossible on the breath or other simple object, such as experiencing body sensations,mentally repeating a mantra (a word or phrase), listening to a repetitive sound, or visualizing an internal or external object.Second, the meditator is told to return the attention to the breath or chosen object everytime one becomes aware/mindful it has wandered to or been distracted by a sound,other sensation, daydreaming, drowsiness, and by thoughts, feelings, and images thatarise in consciousness. It is in returning the attention to the breath that the mind is beingtrained/retrained to recognize and let go of thoughts and feelings rather thanautomatically and habitually reacting to them as a result of previous learning andconditioning.In sitting meditation, it is also recommended that one sit in a comfortable and stableposition to minimize physical stress and movement, and close the eyes or look at a spoton the floor or other neutral object to minimize visual distractions. Observing the breathcan also be done while walking, standing in line, or waiting for an appointment. Lyingdown while meditating is generally discouraged because it is associated with fallingasleep.Scientific studies counter the common complaint that "I can't meditate because I can'tconcentrate on the breath for more than a few seconds." It is the learning to let go of distractions that enhances the ability to sustain focusing, attending, concentrating, andmindfulness, and having to return often to the breath reinforces this ability. Counteringanother frequent objection to meditating - namely, "I'm too busy, don't have time, andhave too many other priorities" - is the research showing that meditators perform tasksmore efficiently and effectively with time left over to do even more when compared withnon-meditators with similar responsibilities, jobs, parenting, and other activities.Studies also show that when meditators subjectively report that they are unable to relaxor experience any benefit, physiological measures of their brain patterns, heart rates,and skin temperatures indicate they are, in fact, relaxing. And other studies show thatthe various benefits of meditation are cumulative and correlated with the length andregularity of practice.Meditation sessions are experienced differently. Some are experienced with calmness, joy, and little or no thinking, and others are filled with restlessness, drowsiness, and
 
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agitated thinking. Because of this subjective variation within and between sessions andthe objective research demonstrating positive results regardless of specific experiences,meditators are encouraged to avoid having any expectations or making judgmentsabout what they experience. All meditations are equally beneficial so long as one intentionally follows the instructionsto focus and refocus on the breath or other chosen object each and every time the mindwanders, no matter how often it strays or how long it stays away before noticing it is noton the breath. This noticing is a moment of mindful awareness that the mind haswandered and is no long engaged in the intended task of following the breath. Worthrepeating: Having to return frequently to the breath reinforces the skill of learning to letgo of distractions and is thus a benefit, not an impediment, to meditation and the abilityto sustain mindfulness.It is recommended that beginners meditate for as many minutes as they choose or havetime to meditate - 10 to 20 minutes or even just one or two minutes daily, or whenever they feel like meditating. And, if desired, work up to 30 or more minutes once or twicedaily as a regular practice.Decide before each session how long it will be and commit to meditating that long inorder to avoid reacting to distracting thoughts that temp one to end a session before theallotted time or doubt the value of a specific meditation or meditation in general. Andcontinue with one technique rather than switching to another to avoid reacting to themind's incessant quest for immediate gratification. Try another method only if you wouldotherwise quit meditating altogether. Remember, meditation is about learning to controlthe mind rather than being controlled by it.Some individuals enjoy meditating with groups and studying with experienced andtrusted teachers, but everyone is capable of learning and practicing mindfulness andmeditation alone. So, alone or with others and regularly or irregularly, while it maysometimes seem counter intuitive, don't just do something, sit there. _____________ For more information, email charlesday1@mchsi.com,call (515-255-8398), check out www.DesMoinesMeditation.org,and attend a 7:30 pm Tuesday meditation at theFriends Meeting House at 4211 Grand Ave. in Des Moines.Charlie began meditating in California in the mid-60s with Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufispiritual teachers who came from the East to introduce meditation to the West. He hasalso studied with Western teachers, many of whom returned here after studying in Asianashrams, monasteries, and retreat centers. And while working as a psychologist in Indiaand Thailand in the late-80s, he participated in several intensive 10-day retreats withBuddhist masters.

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