When tragedy strikes, when we lose someone we love, or when we are confronted with our mortality we often experience a renewed appreciation of the things we usually take for granted: the people we love, our health, being alive… All the little things we usually get so worked up about don’t seem to matter so much anymore. We may experience things more vividly and deeply. At times like that we remember that life is short, death can strike unexpectedly and at any moment, and we should cherish each moment we have here on earth, as human beings.
Mindfulness is a way to be fully present with each moment of our lives. Mindfulness is a form of attention; Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “Paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally.” It is a kind, loving, accepting attentiveness to the experience we have in each moment, without judgment. Mindfulness (like attention) is a natural capacity we are born with. With practice we can strengthen and develop this capacity, much like training specific muscle groups with weight training. One way to train in mindfulness is through the practice of meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that has been extensively researched and studied in the past two decades. Research suggests that the practice of mindfulness meditation has a number of health benefits, including improved immune function, reduced stress, reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lowered blood pressure. Mindfulness meditation is also linked to an increased sense of wellbeing, empathy and compassion, and improved attention. Below is a video of a talk by Clifford Saron, who headed the Shamatha Project, an experimental study of the benefits of mindfulness meditation.
When you begin practicing mindfulness meditation you may find that it seems like you are more distracted, you may feel like you are in a fog, often not very present in the moment. It may seem like the business and speed of your mind is getting worse. This is a very common experience that has been documented for thousands of years. Many people experience this because they are finally becoming aware of how distracted they usually are. With a little bit of training every day (even ten or fifteen minutes), however, you can strengthen your mindfulness, and be more present for each precious moment of your life.