Guest Author: Seth Kaplan
Even if you are not a meditator, you have probably heard the term “mindfulness” referred to by swamis and other cognoscenti. If you are a meditator, don’t worry! You haven’t been doing it “wrong.” But the concept of mindfulness is interesting. You might like to add it to your repertoire or try it for the first time, just to see what all the buzz is about.
I remember the first time I went to a mindfulness meditation class. The teacher had been training corporate executives and the general population for years, so I expected instruction of substance and meaning. It appeared that many others wanted to know more, too, as more chairs were needed to accommodate all the attendees.
First, the instructor told each of us to close our eyes and focus on our breath at the point at which it entered and left our bodies. As for extraneous noises or intrusive thoughts that pulled our focus away from our breath, he suggested that we gently return to our breath, accepting that other worldly elements exist but not allowing them to divert our focus from breath and introspection.
Then, once establishing that procedure as a foundation, the leader asked us to stand and walk slowly around the room, keeping the focus on our breathing (and, presumably, on not bumping into the person in front of us). After several minutes of this and responding to questions, the facilitator announced, “Okay. Now you are meditating.”
I have to admit, I had been expecting more. The accounts I had read describing how meditation had affected the lives of practitioners inspired me to explore, as I wanted to get into touch with my inner world. This was like being served plain miso broth on a cold night when one wanted a hearty clam chowder. So, I left at the session’s conclusion having had some gruel, but also forming a determination to learn more about mindful meditation.
The Eight-Point Program—A More Structured Approach
Finding other approaches wasn’t difficult. A friend of mine, sort of a spiritual advisor, suggested that I look into Eknath Easwaran’s approach to meditation and mindfulness. Easwaran, perhaps the greatest teacher of meditation in the 20th century, translated and explicated many classic Vedic texts. For meditation, though, he developed an approach he called The Eight-Point Program. Here is a summary:
The Eight Point Program of Passage Meditation
Entering the spiritual life by meditating on a memorized inspirational passage is the heart of the program. Seven supporting disciplines are used throughout the rest of the day, helping you go deeper for a lifetime of discovery.
These eight steps are designed for daily practice.
Though they may at first seem unrelated, they are closely linked. Quieting your mind in morning meditation, for instance, will help your efforts to slow down at work, and slowing down at work will, in turn, improve your meditation. Hurry at work and your mind will race during meditation; skip meditation and you will find it difficult to be both slow and concentrated. Practicing all eight creates a balanced approach to spiritual growth, yielding the greatest benefits.
In my own time, I found a spiritual passage, which I chant every day, and a mantram—very meaningful to me—which I chant during the course of the day. I have used this practice for over ten years, as well as a meditative routine I use during savasana (the “dead man’s” pose at the conclusion of a yoga class). For me, this approach takes me away from everyday cares and extraneous disturbances, and reminds me of the power of breath and a focused approach to life.
Many other practitioners have expanded the approaches to mindfulness over the years. One name you may know is Jon Kabat-Zinn². Now affiliated with The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital¹ and other organizations, Mr. Kabat-Zinn writes prolifically and conducts workshops and research around the world on mindfulness and the mind-body relationship.
A Pop Quiz to Get You Started in Mindfulness
In fact, one way to learn about mindfulness is to take a quiz to get a sense of just how “mindful” you are now. Go to the site in the footnote and take the quiz on that page. Once finished, submit it, and you will receive a Mindfulness Score plus an explanation of what it might mean. Use the score as a benchmark. If you do try mindfulness, retake the quiz in a month to see what, if any, changes have occurred. If you already practice mindfulness, perhaps you will get a rough measure of how far you have progressed—or, of how far you’ve yet to go—or, both.
Thanks to GreaterGood.com for permission to link to the quiz.
¹ Some of you may recognize this practice as resembling a labyrinth meditation, in which one follows a path that appears to be randomly laid out, but which actually keeps one’s mind off a destination. One breathes—it is always about the breath in meditation, yoga, and life—and notes each step in the journey. There is no beginning or end; one meditates, using the path as a buffer against outside interruption.
² Institute staffers teach patients ways to counteract stress and build resiliency by eliciting the Relaxation Response.