“How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races – the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and everything that you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall.
Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Consider what happens to the ocean when stormy weather blows in. The once calm, peaceful waters become agitated and angry. Churning, turbulent waves rise up causing the surface to become dark, forbidding, or even scary. Yet deep beneath the fearful disturbance above lies a still, safe place where the waves flow gently, quietly supporting everything.
So it is with waves of pain, fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness. Mindfulness meditation teaches us how to connect with the still, steady, safe place deep within that is always present even in the midst of terrible physical and emotional storms.
Meditation is essentially a state of poised, highly directed concentration, focused on a single, clearly defined stimulus. It is not thinking. There are two main schools:
Concentration or one-pointed meditation like TM or Transcendental Meditation wherein we typically focus on a single word (mantra), a lighted candle, or the breath.
Mindfulness a/k/a insight meditation is a way of being and includes both a narrow and wide range of awareness developing flexibility of mind. It has to do with refining our capacities for paying attention, for sustained and penetrative awareness. It teaches us how to become still so that we are able to “respond” rather than continue to “react” in inappropriate ways.
Mindfulness allows one to develop and refine a way of becoming more intimate with one’s own experience through systematic self-observation:
- which includes the five senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting)
- the inner landscape or what is arising inwardly such as physical sensations, perceptions, impulses, emotions, intentions, thoughts, and the process of thinking itself
- the outer landscape which includes our speech, our actions, how they impact us as well as those around us, and our relationships with others.
It is about deepening the awareness of our direct experience —
the “context” (what is actually happening physically, emotionally, and mentally in that moment of our lives)
the “content” of our lives (the stories we tell ourselves about what we think is happening at that moment).
Mindfulness Meditation includes intentionally suspending the impulse to characterize, evaluate, and judge what one is experiencing. It is a secular practice that involves paying attention to what is happening as it happens with an attitude of kindness, curiosity, and non-judging. With practice, our minds begin to settle down into non-judgmental awareness which is the foundation of emotional intelligence, healthy social relationships, and good mental health. It helps us to discover who we are at the deepest level and to find balance.