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Why We All Need to Practice Mindfulness During These Stressful Times

by JACK KORNFIELD

The fall season is upon us. How can we be calm and centered in these demanding, fast-paced times, when we are bombarded with real problems, divisive news, and fear? Amidst our growing cultural anxiety, I meet people everywhere looking for ways to live with less stress and tension. Fortunately, decades of neuroscience studies show the power we each have to train and regulate our own minds. The key is mindfulness, our natural capacity to be spacious and present. This practice can relieve our stress, awaken positive capacities and bring balance to our lives. Mindfulness is being incorporated in healthcare, business, athletics, and in many school systems, it is providing the social and emotional skills that our kids needed in modern times.

Lauren, a business executive, took a mindfulness class because she was having trouble sleeping, increasingly anxious at demands from work and burdened in caring for her blended family and her mother with Alzheimer’s. She didn’t want to just take pills. She learned mindful ways to use her breath and body to bring calm, acknowledge and hold her emotions with more spaciousness, and to take a short mindful pause when she was upset at work so she could respond wisely rather than react out of habit. Within weeks she was happier and, “miraculously,” her mother was calmer, too.

What is the mindfulness Lauren learned? Mindfulness training is a simple practice of developing our ability to notice with care exactly what is going on in our body and mind and in our relations to others. In practicing mindfulness, we learn how to bring a balanced attention to what is alive here and now, a loving awareness without judgment that helps us understand and not react. When we see clearly, then we can respond to life, not from fears or confusion, but from our wisest and our best intentions. In our speedy complex world, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed, worried, caught up in reactivity. Mindfulness is an antidote, a doorway to inner awareness and freedom, that is critical in our lives and needed in the wider world.

It always delights me to see how short periods of simple training can really change peoples hearts and lives. A young student named Jesse came with his middle school to a one-hour class to learn mindfulness. A month later, he sent me a charming letter in sixth-grade handwriting, saying at the class he didn’t pay much attention and didn’t take that mindfulness stuff “ceriosly” but afterward he went on, “… then I took the little knowledge I had about mindfulness one night after a long fight with my mom and went out on my roof and started meditating. I tried to do what you told us to do, and when I opened my eyes and went back into my house, I was not as mad. I don’t know what it is about mindfulness that helps me but I do know it helps me with all these thoughts and anger. They should teach this in other schools.”

Like physical fitness, with a little practice we can improve our mental fitness and enhance our inner well being. Mindfulness gives us the power to meet any situation wisely, to be fully present, and to operate with courage and compassion.

Last year my beloved wife, Trudy (founder of InsightLA), and I were in London and invited to meet with some of the 85 members of the UK Parliament Mindfulness group now implementing mindfulness in national healthcare, education and other government programs. We sat together in meditation for a time, and then the parliament members who came that day began to talk with one another. Members from both sides of the aisle spoke to each other civilly, honestly and with with surprising openness and care. They told us that their mindfulness group was the best thing that happened to them every week.

I love the community that gathers around The Sunday paper and all that Maria values.

In support, I want to offer a free training in Mindfulness for all. This series, called Mindfulness Daily, takes only 15 minutes a day. Taught with Tara Brach, it is a full introduction to mindfulness, and we think it is our very best teaching. Available for no charge through Sounds True. Click here for more information.

Have a blessed week.

JACK KORNFIELD

Jack Kornfield is a best-selling author and teacher in the vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism. He trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India, first as a student of the Thai forest master Ajahn Chah and Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. For more information about Jack, click here.

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