In this post, we will review the benefits of mindfulness that we (the authors) have experienced. Understand that these are our subjective, interior experiences, although some benefits we mention also refer to our outward, observable behavior—observable to both us and others.
Mindfulness practice has helped us see life events with more clarity and insight, which generally makes things a little easier. In his book, The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield talks about the different layers of feeling and emotion. There is a primary layer that is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, which is always there and is the very first thing that presents itself in a situation. Then it’s layered with the secondary emotions of fear, anger, happiness, joy, sadness, and so on. So one way to be mindful is first to be aware if you are, at this very moment, feeling pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Then drill down to a more specific emotion: are you feeling afraid, angry, happy, joyous, sad, blah, or …. After practicing this for a while, we have begun to feel a bit more like an observer of these emotions and less defined by them. So it becomes more like, “I am not angry; I feel anger flowing through me right now.”
In creating this space, mindfulness allows us to better separate our emotions from the actual aspects of whatever is going on now. Our feelings are undoubtedly important, and if we are not fully aware of how they tie into the situation, we can be consumed by them in a way that that is not beneficial and that can prolong and exacerbate an already challenging situation.
In this way, mindfulness allows us to see the bigger picture by pulling us out of our narrow little viewfinder and expanding our vision to include more of the actual elements happening in the situation. It can help us see those things for what they are rather than just our emotionally interpreted version. Of course, we still see that emotionally interpreted version, which is necessary to function with our full humanity. But mindfulness has helped us to (usually) see more than that. And we believe both versions are needed to be fully human. And as we said, it just makes things easier.
One of the most important benefits we’ve gotten from mindfulness practice is cultivating and increasing a sense of self-trust. Trusting I have the ability not to just get through whatever the situation is but to discover and acknowledge what meanings and purposes might be behind it, even in the most excruciating and challenging of circumstances. The saying, “It’s not what happens to you but how you choose to respond to it” is applicable here. Challenges are inevitable, but suffering is in some ways optional. If you are not aware of what is really happening in the situation, your emotions, your automatic judgments and reactions; it is easy to get lost or stuck into already challenging circumstances. In that way, you are creating or at least contributing to your own suffering on top of what is actually already happening. Mindfulness plays a key part in helping us be more aware of the above aspects, which can significantly lessen the suffering we often pile on top of things.
Mindfulness practice has allowed us to create more space to respond in ways that will benefit everyone involved. Rather than being stuck into old loops or patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which might have been helpful or necessary at one point in our lives but no longer serve a useful purpose, it provides a space to consider novel responses. It gives us more control over our reactions to any situation that occurs. It transfers control from our automatic conditioned mind while giving back to us the gift of our capacity to make fully human choices.
Many of us often succumb to the idea and feeling that, “I can’t control what happens in my life, I just have to let it happen,” Although that is true to an extent, we have a lot more say about what happens than we give ourselves credit for and permission to act on. Mindfulness practice helps us be more aware of both our own and others’ subjective (interior) and the objective (exterior) aspects of situations so that we more clearly and fully see what is going on. When we are not full of judgment and criticism and can clearly see many ways to view a situation, we are more effective problem solvers. Relationships with others become easier. You learn to trust yourself and your instincts. You become more aware of your limits and boundaries. You are better (but still not perfectly) able to discern your own role in difficulties, what you can change, and what you cannot.
A continued mindfulness practice makes it difficult not to acknowledge the impermanence of all things. To recognize the impermanence of all things is good news and bad news. Of course, most of us want good things to stick around forever and bad things to be extremely temporary. We become more aware that good things are going to happen and crappy things are going to happen. That’s just how it is. We learn not to fight it so much but allow these things to come and go. We learn to give them some space so we can observe them and not always get sucked into them. But we also know we will get sucked in sometimes. However, mindfulness has also helped us allow ourselves to be pushed out quickly after getting sucked in.
Mindfulness has aided us to be more of an observer in our own lives when appropriate. That doesn’t mean we participate less. It means we are more able to consciously, rather than automatically, choose if and how we engage. We believe that the more mindful we are while doing something, the more of our true self is present. We are less distracted and bombarded and believe we are able to present our fuller, more authentic self in any situation. And that feels good. Even in a crisis situation, you can bring your best to it. You can be more an observer of your own life. It makes life little more relaxed and more fulfilling. You can get some cool stuff done.
Forgiveness also seems easier after starting a mindfulness practice. It might take a while. You begin to realize the connectedness between and among all things. Of course, you can still see things as separate, but at the same time, you understand how things impact each other. This can increase your sense of gratitude as well as your empathy for others. This leads to an increased ability to forgive and just let stuff go.
It seems to us that so many people are hell-bent on acquiring and holding on to things and will do almost anything not to lose something. As emotional attachment deepens, fear of loss increases, along with the sorrow and pain that come from both our imagined and actual losses. For us, a final benefit of mindfulness practice has been at least a partial antidote to this dis-ease of modern society.