What is Mindfulness Meditation? Dan Siegal, a prominent psychiatrist and advocate of Mindfulness would say that mindfulness is being present without being swept up by judgements.
Researchers have found that being present affects our physiology. When we are present we have an impact on our immune system. There is an improvement in an enzyme called telomerase that raises the capacity to repair the ends of our chromosomes and maintain them. These telomeres are like the caps on the ends of our shoelaces that keep them from unravelling. When each of our cells divides, it needs the integrity of the DNA, the nucleic acids in the chromosomes that are in the nucleus of the cell, to maintain themselves. If there are no caps (telomeres), they (the nucleic acids) frizzle out and ultimately the cell is no longer able to reproduce. Eating a healthy diet and exercising also have a positive impact on telomerase. Being mindful is another way we can take care of our bodies as well as our minds.
Mind-wandering undermines happiness and presence. When your mind is wandering – thinking about things that distract you from what you’re doing that are negative, or even if your mind-wandering is on positive things – both of those lead to unhappiness and they’re associated with lower levels of telomerase.
Presence is a mind process – it’s your subjective experience, in consciousness, of focusing your attention to stream energy and information flow into awareness. Instead of thinking about what happened last week, or worrying about what I’m going to do tomorrow… I stay present.
Traits of Presence Versus Mindfulness
- Being aware of what it happening as it’s happening e.g. being in the shower
- Having a non-judgemental Stance: Judgements may arise and you let them go
- Non-reactive: This means that when you emotionally respond to something, you bring yourself come back to baseline readily – you don’t get lost in your reaction.
- The ability to name and narrate: the capacity to distance yourself from the here-and-now emotional experience. This trait differentiates Mindfulness from straight presence
- Self-observation: This can be demonstrated across all 4 traits: We notice when we are no longer present; we notice when we are judgemental and let go of the judgement; we notice when we are re-active and bring ourselves back to being centred; we notice our emotional responses and choose our response to a given situation. This, too, differentiates Mindfulness from straight presence.
When we practice Mindfulness we are creating specific circuits in the brain so that patterns of neural firing are created. Once you do this with regularity those patterns become reinforced with the activation of genes, the production of proteins, the strengthening of synapses, and sometimes the growing of new neurons.
Many people believe that they can’t include mindfulness into their already busy schedules. Incorporating mindfulness into our lives is one way of doing this. It begins with being present as we engage in daily tasks. That might be on the drive home from work where we turn off the radio and pay attention to the sounds around us, the lights as the car ahead stops or the traffic lights. At another point we might notice sensations in our body: the temperature of the steering wheel, the sensation of our sit bones one the car seat or the seat belt around our shoulders. Just noticing what grabs our attention in the moment. On public transit we could listen to a meditation recording. It could be giving a child a bath where we listen attentively and are truly engaged in the present. We can pay attention to the warmth of the water, the sensation of the soap in our hands or the roughness of the washcloth.
Here is a link to a 2 minute video I showed at The Covenant Group’s Pinnacle Conference last year describing how to meditate. Five to ten minutes a day is all you need to do to make changes in your brain.