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Developing a Mindfulness Practice

There’s no better way to detach from unwanted thoughts and feelings than by using the practice of mindfulness. I recently watched a 12-minute YouTube video, Befriending Your Mind, Befriending Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, that nicely sums up the essence and uses of mindfulness. I also recommend two of Kabat-Zinn’s books, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE and FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING—USING THE WISDOM OF YOUR BODY AND MIND TO FACE STRESS, PAIN, AND ILLNESS.

Here’s my major take-away message from Kabat-Zinn’s video: mindfulness is a practice. As he says, we usually think of a practice as a rehearsal for a finished or final product. However, mindfulness is an end in itself, not the means to an end. It’s the doing of it that makes all the difference, the goal of which is not simply being, but the simplest kind of being—not thinking or feeling but experiencing the moment.

Kabat-Zinn describes a process we’ve all encountered, that of our thinking mind “galloping” away. This natural occurrence happens most frequently when we’re not busy doing, especially when we’re trying to fall asleep. It’s as if thoughts rush in to fill the void when our attention is not placed elsewhere. For some folks, this experience is disturbing because the thoughts that fill the vacuum consist mostly of what’s wrong with them and various and sundry ways they’ve failed to live the life they wish to be living. Kabat-Zinn calls this state of being the default mode or what we’ve come up with as “the story of me.” In the case of unhappy, disregulated eaters, this story often is not a pretty one.

In the video, Kabat-Zinn sites studies of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and how the brain reacts to the practice of mindfulness: stress is reduced, relaxation and calmness increase. Are there any of you who would not like this to happen? Best of all, mindfulness changes your brain! Of course, you must continue this process to benefit from the changes and that’s why it’s called a practice. There is no easy solution to straying thoughts, but mindfulness will take care of them over time. And lower your blood pressure and relax your muscles. Really, you can’t beat it.

Mindfulness is simple to learn, more so than much of what you’ve already learned in life. It teaches you to view your thoughts and emotions for the fleeting sensations they are, deepens your sense of the moment and the experiential present, keeps you relaxed and aware of yourself, and helps you stay connected to your body, including its appetite signals. Such bounty for doing a simple practice for only minutes a day.