by Dr. Christa Smith, Psychologist Denver 80230
Contrary to popular belief mindfulness meditation is not intended to make your mind clear and rid your mind of thoughts. It’s not supposed to make you feel peaceful either. This is important to know because so many people stop their meditation careers in the early stages because it doesn’t seem to be working or because they feel they just aren’t good at it. They can’t, for example, stay focused on their breath for any period of time. That’s a shame because meditation has so many proven benefits for the body and mind, one of which is stress reduction. But benefits, like stress reduction, don’t necessarily come in the moment you are practicing.
There’s a school of psychology called ACT and here’s how they put it, mindfulness of your thoughts, feelings and body sensations is not about feeling better, its about getting better at feeling. We need to have strategies to feel better, we need to relieve stress by going outside, getting a massage, or any number of ways we blow off steam. But we also need to be able to handle stress. Mindfulness meditation can be very relaxing, but that’s not the main point. You can think of it as a complimentary skill, a way of feeling more relaxed because we are more able to allow for whatever experiences show up in our bodies and minds. When we can accept the flow of thoughts and feelings as something more like temporary weather we don’t get as caught up or as stressed. From that calmer place we are better at making good decisions and taking action when we need to.
Perhaps the best clue as to what meditation is for is in the meaning of the word. Meditation is a translation of the Sanskrit word, Bhavana. Bhavana means to cultivate or develop. Some scholars have suggested that the word Bhavana was used because when the Buddha was alive agriculture was a big part of peoples’ lives and that the like an unplanted field has the potential to grow many different crops our minds have potential to develop many different qualities.
We have the choice develop qualities, like gratitude, that support our well-being or qualities that subtract from it. But if we let our minds do what they will, it’s like letting a field grow up with whatever seeds might be carried there by the wind or whatever seeds may have been lying latent below the soil. You don’t really know what you are going to get.
As a Denver psychologist I have heard many clients say that meditation changes their lives outside of their meditation practice. They feel more relaxed at work or less overwhelmed by emotions when challenges arise. The real point of learning to meditate is to take the reigns and decide that you are going to do something to cultivate your own field, a task that nobody else can do for you.