a chapter of Mindfulness Ontario
Practising mindfulness has physical, intellectual and emotional benefits. It also feels quite pleasant when it occurs. By “when it occurs” I mean when I bring my attention back to the present moment – when I refocus on the here and now.
A few years after I began to meditate, in my work as a public servant, I was attending a day-long meeting of our national advisory council in Whitehorse. The council was my responsibility as coordinator, so I was paying close attention to the discussion. Or so I thought I was. But, at some point, I became aware of a tight feeling or sensation in my forehead. And, since I'd been learning that feelings of discomfort (dis - comfort) in my body are often the result of my thoughts, I turned my attention to what was on my mind. In fact, my thoughts were focused only somewhat on the person speaking. They were largely on the next agenda item and what I would do when it came up. I was multitasking between the present moment and the future.
When I brought my full attention back to the speaker and what he was saying, I felt a pleasant relaxing sensation spread over my forehead. I had returned to mindfulness – paying attention to the reality of the present moment – and that dissolved the discomfort in my forehead due to the strain of trying to do two things "at once". I say "at once" because our brains can't actually think about more than one thing at a time. They can only flit back-and-forth at lightning speed between different objects of our attention. And such multitasking creates a feeling of discomfort in the forehead. Because of my meditation practice, I had become more aware of such sensations.
A second early experience of the pleasant feeling of mindfulness was when I was shaving and not paying full attention. Now, there's a risky activity! As I lifted the razor blade to make the next smooth stroke, I experienced a relaxing feeling spread over my forehead. I realized that I'd been thinking about an event planned for later in the day, and had just returned to paying full attention to the present moment – the moment of stroking my neck with a very sharp metal tool. In returning to the here and now, I'd reduced the risk of shortening my life as well as my one-day beard!
The capacity to better recognize when we're NOT paying attention is cultivated through the meditation and mindfulness course developed by Jon Kabatt-Zinn (see blog post of July 14). A major component of the course is increasing our awareness of the physical sensations of our body – by practising body scanning, walking meditation, and gentle yoga. With greater body awareness, we can sense much more readily when multitasking or negative thoughts (e.g., irritation or anxiety) create a feeling of discomfort in our body. And, this feeling of discomfort tells us that we're not being mindful, that our attention is somewhere other than the reality that our body is experiencing right now.
For several years, I had the privilege and pleasure of providing a ride to a Buddhist monk who gave a weekly guided meditation and dharma talk to interested persons. On one occasion, I excitedly told him of my "discovery" of how my body – physical sensations – was telling me when I wasn't paying attention. He confirmed my insight – "Yes, and as we continue our meditation practice, we recognize such feelings faster and faster and we get better at returning to mindfulness".
As I go about my day, I "catch" myself dozens of times in non-mindful mode by such feelings. They remind me to focus on what is happening - what I'm physically doing or experiencing right now. And, I'm always rewarded with a relaxing sensation, a feeling of calmness in my body and mind. These pleasant feelings spur me on to be mindful more and more.
Instructor, Meditation and Mindfulness