Research has confirmed the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It has been shown to improve your overall sense of well being, reduce psychological distress such as anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure.
Meditation helps us to be more mindful of what is going on in our body, in our feelings, in our mind, and in the world. As we learn to be more mindful, we also learn to be more accepting and gentle with ourselves and with others. Our relationship with life changes from a wrestling match to a dance as we learn to accept the cycle of ups and downs, of suffering and joy. We learn not to look away from the joy that comes our way just because there is also suffering.
We begin to appreciate who we are without being caught in expectations of who we should be. Through awareness, we can transform habit energy from negative to positive, from anger to acceptance, from apathy, resignation and despair to action. But when anger and despair do arise, we learn to face them directly. When we touch our negative emotions deeply we gain understanding and transformation.
When we are lost in our thinking, our anxieties and worries, we don’t realize that we have a safe harbor within ourselves; we don’t realize that we have an aspect that is always, strong, solid and calm. When the sky is cloudy, we know that the sun is still there. The clouds don’t destroy the sun – they just hide it from view. The sun is always shining even during the darkest days and nights.
In the same way, our habitual way of thinking and reacting has not destroyed our safe harbor –our strong, solid and calm self. We just need to clear our mind by focusing on our breath and by paying attention to what is happening in our body, our feelings and our thoughts – when we do that we will be able to find that quiet, soothing place within ourselves.
As our mindfulness expands, we can be present with and appreciate the simple and beautiful gifts that we posses, the sunshine, soft breezes, flowers, the smiles of children and friends, without being lost in our expectations of the future and our regrets about the past.
From “Recognizing Feelings” a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on 25th of November 1999
Practicing mindfulness you will develop the capacity of being free. We cultivate our freedom and we know that freedom is the foundation of our happiness. There is no happiness without freedom. When we walk we can walk as a free person or as a slave – it depends on your way of walking. If you are caught by your anger, by your worry about the future, by your guilt concerning the past then you are not a free person, you walk but you are a slave. But if you are capable of making steps that are solid, peaceful, and if you enjoy every step that you make you are free from your worries, your fear, your regret and then you are a free person. And being a free person you can be very happy. So the amount of happiness you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart. So, the practice of mindfulness, being there in the here and the now is really the practice of freedom. Not to allow yourself to be caught by the past, by the future, by your worries, by your anxieties. Free yourself in order to be there in the here and the now, to touch the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now, that is the practice ofmindfulness.
Even if you have a physical pain – If you have a physical pain mindfulness will help you to know, to be aware that a physical pain is there. Breathing in I know that there is a physical pain in me, breathing out I smile to the physical pain, and somehow you may remain a free person. If you try very hard to suppress the physical pain, you try to resist, your suffering is increased by ten times, twenty times because you are not free. If you are free you suffer very little, if you are not free you suffer ten times, twenty times more, that is why mindfulness can help. I repeat this, if it is a pleasant feeling, recognize it simply as a pleasant feeling, not to be attached to it, not try to possess it, not try to make it last longer, not try to make it eternal. Because if you do you will suffer, because everything is impermanent, including your pleasant feeling. So, whether the pleasant feeling is there or is not there, you are a free person and that is the key of your happiness.
If the unpleasant feeling is there, recognize it as being there, not trying to resist, not trying to combat, and then you are still a free person. You don’t have to suffer much because an unpleasant feeling is also impermanent – any feeling is impermanent. When you have physical pain you tend to worry a lot, you tend to resist a lot, you really want to hurry in order to remove the physical pain. And that kind of tension, that kind of resistance, that kind of attitude will make the physical pain in you double, triple, ten times, one hundred times more intense, that is why mindfulness practice is just to recognize it as it is, smiling to it. The practice of mindfulness is to maintain your freedom in order for you not to suffer.