What is "Mindfulness" and Why Should I Meditate?

What thoughts arise when you hear the word “mindfulness” or “meditation”?  As the scientific studies confirming the benefits of this practice keep pouring in, these are words we are hearing more frequently but may not completely understand.  Many believe that to “successfully” meditate we must clear our minds of thoughts.  In reality, mindfulness meditation does not aim to stop the flow of thoughts, but rather teach us how to slow down and simply become more familiar with our own patterns of thinking.  

WellessenceMD is the only suburban Chicago location to offer the world renown Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program developed by Jon Kabat Zinn in 1979.  The program lasts eight weeks and invites the participant to commit to 45 minutes of daily meditation practice.  I know finding 45 minutes to meditate every day sounds crazy.  When I first learned about this program 5 years ago I thought the same thing.  However, I was intrigued enough to take a week away from my patients and my family to fly to Rhinebeck, New York to learn more.

I was taught how to meditate for the first time that week and I spent four hours in silence.  The practice was sometimes uncomfortable, and I can’t say I “liked” it.  Regardless, I could not ignore the over five hundred scientific articles in the past year alone on the positive effects of meditation across a wide variety of health and wellness domains.  In addition, I noticed within my own medical practice that the vast number of patients with unhealthy habits, anxiety, depression, insomnia, ADHD, and chronic pain continued to struggle despite treatment with traditional therapies.   I knew this practice held promise for my patients struggling with these issues.  I was intrigued enough to continue exploring it.

That four hours of silence turned into another retreat with 36 hours of silence, and then 72 hours of silence, and then 7 days, 8 days, and now 9 days.  Yes, I can spend 9 days in silence.  This continues to shock those that know my talkative ways, but five years into meditating I see the difference it’s made in my life experience, and for me, I know there’s no going back to the mind state that doesn’t see the value of this practice.  Does that mean I meditate 45 minutes every day?  No, but it’s my intention.  The most important part of change is not to abandon a healthy habit that may be difficult to maintain, but to keep doing what we can do, when we can do it.  If we keep this intention in mind, we’ll end up closer to where we want to be in our lives over time.   Awareness of my habits helps me to remember whether the habit I’m acting out is one I want to perpetuate or change.

What is my meditation practice doing for me?  Since starting to practice, I see myself becoming more accepting of my limitations and the limitations of others.  I am learning to take better care of myself and not put the responsibility onto others for whether I end up feeling happy or fulfilled.  It’s helping me to be my most authentic self and to interact with others with honesty and humility.  Moreover, it’s teaching me ways to question the limitations of my personality and that of others.  I find myself more often approaching my perception of myself and others with a beginner’s mind, because change is always possible.  It’s helping me to see the deeper meaning and context of my thoughts and actions and stay more grounded in reality with the ability to courageously handle what arises.  My practice has helps me to be more joyous and grateful even in the face of death, loss, and unwanted change.  My heart feels larger and I can forgive myself and others for shortcomings with more ease than before.  I can tell that my meditation practice is taking me to a place where I experience more equanimity, that ability to be all-embracing and solidly at peace no matter what life holds.

These are a few of the reasons that I teach our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class.  By introducing you to this practice, I hope you can learn one of the most evidenced based methods of self-care offered.  Through the establishment of a mindfulness community in the Chicago suburbs, we can all continue to learn and practice together in the hopes of achieving more health and wellbeing for ourselves and everyone else in our world.  I encourage you to call and attend our next free orientation to learn more.

 

Author
Kara J. Nance, MD, FACP General Practitioner & Obesity Medicine Specialist

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