Updated: Apr 2, 2020
In the late 1960's a Zen Monk by the name of Thich Nhat Hanh published his classic book Miracles of Mindfulness and an ancient spiritual practise went mainstream. Nowadays everyone's talking about mindfulness: A buzzword of the 21st century, bought and sold in every bookshop, the miracle in fact remains timeless: This practise works, and allows us to touch the truth of the present moment.
Mindfulness for those who don't know is the practise by which we cultivate attentive awareness of the present moment. Similar to meditation, the only difference being, that while meditation adopts a formal pose and posture, mindfulness can be practised anywhere and at any time. In fact in real terms mindfulness and meditation are the same, in the fact they both strive for the same goal. That of being awake and alive to the present moment. With that being said here are eight reasons why mindfulness can help you.
Mindfulness can relax you: Watching the breath is boring; but it's also peaceful. When the breath is used as the contemplative object, you observe it, and slowly reach a state of calm. Studies have shown that practising mindfulness can reduce inflammation in the body, thereby decreasing tension, and increasing relaxation.
Mindfulness can improve your health: Mindfulness can improve your cardiovascular health; particularly high blood pressure and heart disease. Studies have also demonstrated that it can help reduce pain levels in other chronic conditions including Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Mindfulness can help you regulate emotions: MRI scans have shown that patients who have practised meditation or mindfulness have decreased activation in the amygdala the part of the brain which controls fear and aggression. This means emotional regulation is that much easier.
Mindfulness can help you build relationships: Mindfulness can predict relationship satisfaction. Being closely linked to the idea of "mentalisation" the scientific word to describe a person's capacity to infer mental states from behaviour, it suggests if we are mindful we will also be better at communication.
Mindfulness can help you tolerate distress: Mindfulness is a secret weapon against suicide. By being able to watch and observe distressing thoughts, feelings or perceptions, without acting on them, we are able to let go more easily.
Mindfulness can improve decision making: Studies have shown, mindfulness improves decision-making skills. We have better working-memory when we meditate, and are able to solve more complicated problems.
Mindfulness can prevent dementia: University College London has found mindfulness could prevent dementia. Increases in white-matter form a protective sheath around the brain essentially preventing age-related structural memory loss.
Mindfulness is the gateway to wisdom: When we are awake, we know the truth of the way things. We begin to investigate reality, noticing, that everything including emotions, cognitions, and perceptions are impermanent, ownerless and unsatisfactory. When we are non-attached we are happier.
There's still a lot of myths surrounding mindfulness, not least, the one which argues mindfulness is a panacea for all of life's woes. In fact, while practising mindfulness may make the mind tranquil, reality stays the same. That is why you also need wisdom.
Mindfulness without wisdom is pretty worthless; it's like taming a wild horse, only to let it wander off in any direction. A bank robber can be mindful, an insect can have moment-to-moment awareness, but only a human being has the capacity to be mindful and wise at the same time.
What then, is wisdom? For mindfulness, Buddhists use the term Sati Sampajañña which roughly translates as recollective awareness. It is attentive awareness which helps us remember the truth about life: Namely we can only live in the present moment. Furthermore, in so far as there is a past and future, we should make an effort to reacquaint ourselves with natural qualities of kindness, compassion and empathy, in order to live more peacefully.
That really is a miracle: Beyond the medical benefits, mindfulness can help us investigate painful emotions and painful events with clarity and insight. With practise, we develop the inner-peace born on non-attachment.
Why is the Buddha always smiling? Because he's learn to let go.