~ 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:
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.