Mindfulness, Meditation, Yoga, Third Eye, Higher Self, Inner Self, Spirit, Soul, Healing – we see these concepts spread just about everywhere today, and not only in environments focused on health or spirituality. We no longer must visit a fitness club, yoga center, or place of worship to engage matters of the mind and body on a deeper level. Various professions offer, and even broadcast on the forefront of their brands, opportunities for cultivating a sense of wellness and relaxation as an adjunct to productivity. Social media is flooded with psychoeducation on viewing health through a holistic lens. Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer and other mobile apps put relaxation at our fingertips. Conventional views of human consciousness are being challenged daily by neurologists and geneticists as they continually prove that thought alone can influence physical matter. Technically, we are becoming more intelligent when it comes to the origins of human nature and the stress response – but why are rates of depression and anxiety continuing to skyrocket despite all things “wellness” with which we are being inundated?
One of the biggest myths that goes unforeseen by the population at large, is that mindfulness meditation/other spiritual practices are entities with a finish line and can succeed or fail. Although counter intuitive at first thought, meditation gurus will tell us that the only success in meditation is simply a loosening of the grip around what we think we should be doing or feeling, rather than what is currently experienced. Of course, one may feel better after certain kinds of meditation are practiced, but that does not indicate that another attempt was necessarily a failure. This is evident in the fact that meditation simply means “a look inward”. Every second of every day, we are receiving a broadcast from the environment in the form of physical sensations (the 5 senses), complex emotional expressions and thoughts, and nervous system energies. Our internal system responds to this broadcast and immediately seeks an orderly attachment to meaning. We seek to tell a story about what is going on. Meditation is, in essence, looking at what is going on. Again, if we fiercely grip the should of life, it can be quite easy to feel like our meditation was a failure – and self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety come barreling through the door.
A second myth to which is commonly subscribed is that we should always feel calm and clear minded after meditating. If you’ve read this far, you know that there is nothing more required of you to “meditate” than to simply look inward, even if what’s there is chaotic. That’s right – just noticing that things are chaotic, and you are not by any means relaxed, is a “successful” meditative practice. Mindfulness is commonly described as “focusing on the present”, which is partially true but rather broad. True mindfulness practice involves focusing on some entity in the present moment or environment, the byproduct being a greater sense of existing in the present. If you notice that you’re having trouble focusing on the present moment, you’ve successfully gone inward to see that at the (present) moment, you are not actually focused on it. Viewing depression as being stuck in the past, and anxiety as being launched into the unforeseen future, mindfulness practice can be seen as a fight against this tug of war in which our minds have us engaged daily.
The Human Soul
When you hear that mindfulness practice is good for the “soul”, think of the sole of a shoe. The sole of a shoe cushions the impact of your foot against the ground, and even has technology to generate force back upward into the body. With a worn out sole, it can feel as if your feet are being damaged as they contact harder surfaces, or even feel like you’re dragging them in cement. The human soul can be seen as the thickness of your emotional skin, including the ability to withstand force (striking the ground) and ability to heal (pushback upward into the body). Mindfulness practice can absolutely soften the impact of the depth and breadth of pain this life has to offer.
Facts about Meditation
Here are some more concrete facts about meditation, and some ways you can incorporate it into daily life.
Mindfulness practice has been scientifically proven to grow the volume of connections in the brain that are responsible for planning responses and keeping intrusive thoughts and impulses at bay
Regular mindfulness practice has been scientifically proven to aid the rhythm of your heart, subsequently increasing life expectancy.
Just like physical exercise, the more you practice mindfulness (especially when you don’t feel well), the easier it is to achieve our theoretical definition of meditative “success”. You’re conditioning your mind to go inward when what’s there may not be so pleasant, just as you would push through some leg soreness on a long run to become more resilient in the face of adverse conditions.
A look inward can include mindful eating, breathing, swallowing, listening to any sound (or listening to silence), paying attention to various body parts as they lie in the moment, noticing the nature of your thoughts, naming emotions, noticing with the 5 senses, and tons more.
Crucial part of mindfulness practice is to notice things non-judgmentally. Thoughts and feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are. You can also practice mindfulness by noticing that you tend to judge what you’re noticing!
Mindfulness practice can help you see that you are not, by definition, solely what you think, feel, and do. They are only parts of a much larger scope of identity. Depression and anxiety want us to identify fully as our thoughts, emotions, and behavioral tendencies.
Mindfulness practice can help view consciousness as something being received rather than generated by our brains, loosening the grip of harsh self-judgment.
Mindfulness practice can increase overall happiness in its truest definition! (Connectedness to nature, content, alive, seen, heard, collecting all the elements of a present experience)
Start practicing mindfulness and meditation. Even just 5 minutes a day can make a huge difference and get the ball rolling to connect to yourself!
Sean O'Connor is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling.
Some therapies he specializes in are
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for emotion regulation
Polyvagal Theory for Nervous System Regulation
Sean is licensed in New York and Florida. He is available to take new clients!