Today begins a new year and a renewed commitment to mindfulness. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey taught us that we are response-able; that between stimulus and response there is a gap, and it is in this gap that we can examine our perceptions of the stimulus and select our response. We can choose to act rather than react. Mindfulness is about dwelling in that gap.
Although meditation is not necessary for living a mindful life, it is a complementary practice because it widens the gap between stimulus and response. With mindfulness we dwell in the space between perception and action. Meditation gives us more space to live with. During years of meditation practice I would not say that I have become “enlightened” or “self-actualized,” and maintaining continual mindfulness remains quite challenging, but I have experienced both the expanding of the space and an enhanced ability to inhabit it.
The widening of the gap that results from a regular meditation practice:
- Reduces mental chatter and quiets the mind for longer periods.
- Slows down thinking to permit more deliberate streams of thought.
- Lessens the propensity for illogical strings of thoughts that produce “runaway mind.”
- Increases the capacity to counteract our fight-or-flight instinct and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
- Improves the ability to emotionally detach from situations, particularly confrontations, to become more objective and less argumentative.
Living in the gap by being mindful:
- Allows us to dwell in the present, emotionally unaffected by irrelevant past experiences or irrational fears of the future.
- Enables us to resist taking things personally and attributing motives to the behaviors of others.
- Makes us more conscious of our own behaviors, including harmful habits.
- Inhibits our inclination to pre-judge situations and events so that we no longer anticipate doom and gloom or over-anticipate the possibility of happiness and joy which often leads to disappointment.
- Diminishes our predisposition to pre-judge or label others without first getting to know them, thereby fostering less bias and prejudice.
- Helps us to let go of unhealthy attachments by realizing that absolute control and stability are an illusion and change is constant.
- Encourages us to accept people “as is” and avoid trying to change them to conform to our image of what they should be and how they should act.
- Diminishes the dread of doing burdensome, tedious or unsavory tasks that we must do whether we want to or not.
- Eliminates mental to-do lists and intellectual multi-tasking, which reduces stress and anxiety.
- Causes us to examine what is really important and what is really worth striving for, resulting in fewer feelings of want and inadequacy and a stronger sense of fulfillment and self-worth.
And so, a personal commitment to mindfulness is a worthwhile resolution for this new year. And a collective commitment to mindfulness will benefit our homes, our workplaces, our communities and our world. Will you join me?