Mindfulness, meditation both improve quality of life – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

So, people are encouraging you to meditate.

After all, the science is clear. Meditators concentrate better, experience enhanced well-being, avoid hurry sickness and emotional hijacking, suffer less anxiety, sleep well and are often physically healthier.

But, what if you just can’t do it? In listening to folks describe why they’ve given up trying to meditate, I hear similar complaints.

Before I offer you an alternative to meditating altogether, let’s examine the impediments that make it challenging. Most involve misunderstandings.

“I can’t stop thinking,” many would-be meditators lament.

However, meditation is not about stopping thought. It’s about positively altering your emotional relationship with your thoughts. You become the master of your thinking, not the other way around. Many of us allow our negative thoughts to dictate how we feel and behave, leaving us at the mercy of irrational forces in our psyches.

“My mind wanders,” is another common complaint.

In fact, after meditating effectively for a few minutes, the mind often enters a dreamlike, intuitive state of consciousness where imagination, insights, dreamlike images and mind wandering may emerge. Many meditators shift back and forth between a more focused state (concentrating on the breath, for example) and a more diffuse one.

“Focusing on my breathing doesn’t work,” is another grouse.

You don’t have to. Some meditators keep their eyes open and gaze at a candle, flower, painting or scene in nature. Others concentrate on an entrancing sound, like a brook, wind in the treetops, crickets, white noise, etc. And there are moving meditations, such as yoga, tai chi and just plain walking (if done in a mindful, non-distracted manner).

So, if one of these impediments applies to you, consider giving meditation another go. But if you just can’t make it happen, there is an alternate path.

There is evidence that being mindful at intervals throughout your day will yield similar benefits to a daily meditation practice of 15 minutes or more. So, what exactly does it mean to be mindful?

When in this state of consciousness, we fully engage with the present moment in an accepting and non-judgmental way (think “flow”), awakening the “dispassionate observer” inside ourselves. We’ve all had spontaneous interludes of mindfulness, usually when deeply absorbed in some pursuit. Mental chatter fades, time slows and concentration intensifies.

So, you need not add a new behavior, like meditating. You can simply conduct your daily habits in a mindful fashion.

Start with activities you now do mindlessly, like eating, bathing, brushing your teeth, making the bed, driving, etc. Using your senses, fully immerse yourself in whatever you are doing in the here-and-now so it envelopes your entire awareness.

Once you imbue your daily habits with mindfulness, this state of consciousness will ripple out into other spheres of your world.

Living in the present resolves many issues.

Meditate . . . practice mindfulness . . . either one will get you there.

Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer. Email Chard at outofmymind@philipchard.com or visit philipchard.com.

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