Sleep versus Meditation

Today was a struggle :-(

I woke this morning at 6 am and meditated for 40 minutes before I went to work.

In the quiet of an otherwise sleeping house it was great to experience a relaxed awareness and watch as the night sky and city lights slowly gave way to a grey misty dawn. I can still see the streetlamps abruptly switch off to mark the moment that last night became today. And yet as I found my mind constantly wandering in meditation, I knew that I was tired and should have gone to bed earlier. Later, it came as no surprise to find that today was a struggle, and not only did I achieve very little, but I was very, very far from mindful.

In Arianna Huffington’s short 4 minute TED talk I find it striking how the benefits of a good night’s sleep  mirror those of mindfulness.

A good night’s sleep, “unlocks billions of ideas” and unleashes our creativity. When we get enough sleep we are productive and inspired. We can see the big picture, gain insights and are more joyful. Sound familiar?

On the flip side, I remember how much it resonated with me when I read an article about how we tend to make bad decisions when we are low. And here Arianna quips how sleep deprived, but otherwise intelligent leaders, often don’t see the iceberg until its too late.

It should come as no surprise that a good night’s sleep is synonymous with mindfulness, after all mindfulness is often thought of as ‘awakening to the present moment’.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

In developing a meditation habit, we need to carve out some time every day to sit. I don’t think I’m different from too many people in finding that its much easier to sit in the quiet of the morning, rather than after a long tiring day at work.

The benefit of meditating in the morning is the opportunity to experience what Thich Nhat Hahn describes as, ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’, and to start the day with a still mind before we enter the fray.

Today was as a struggle, and there will be plenty more. But let’s not underestimate how difficult it is to build a daily meditation habit to realize the benefits of mindfulness.

When it comes to Sleep versus Meditation, in my experience a lack of one cancels out the benefit of the other. However, Sleep and Meditation takes Arianna’s message to a whole new level.

If only reading at night wasn’t such a pleasure!

The Unhappy Wandering Mind

Here’s a good reason to take Mindfulness seriously

Matt Killingsworth developed an iphone app that could message you at any time and ask you three questions.

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What are you doing right now?
  • Is your mind wandering?

Here are his findings.

  • People are happiest when their minds are focused on what they’re doing.
  • Even for the dreariest activities, like commuting, we are happier when our minds are not wandering.
  • Mind wandering is very nearly our default mode.
  • Which means, we spend a whole lot of time elsewhere than we actually are.
  • A lot of the time, when our mind is wandering, we are worrying.
  • Our level of happiness doesn’t depend on what we’re doing
  • Mind wandering is quite likely a cause of our unhappiness.

One of my first insights from meditation is that my mind wanders, a lot. Take ten breaths and I’m gone in three. What is most interesting about this study, is the confirmation that if we can stick around and smell the coffee, we are happier. The problem is most of the time, the lights are on, but nobody is at home.

It’s a pretty convincing argument for practicing meditation and developing the art of mindfulness.

Mindfulness – The Art of Being

Mindfulness is the Art of Being.

Meditation is how we practice.

The basic idea is to create an island of ‘being’ in a sea of constant ‘doing’ in which our lives are usually immersed, a time in which we allow all the ‘doing’ to stop.

To purposefully stop all ‘doing’ in our lives and relax into the present without trying to fill it up with anything. To allow our body and mind to come to rest in the present, no matter what is on our mind, or how our body feels. To allow ourselves to be with things exactly as they are, without trying to change anything.

This is hard work.

To actively tune in to each moment in an effort to remain awake and aware from one moment to the next requires focus and effort.

Mindfulness cannot be learnt from a book. Like any art, craft, skill or sport it is only developed through practice. Meditation is the practice.

To participate in a MBSR course requires a major personal commitment to spend some time every day practicing just ‘being’.

You have to actually practice mindfulness, cultivate it in your own life, in order to reap its benefits and to come to understand why it is so valuable. The more regularly you practice, the more the power of mindfulness will grow and the more it will work for you.

(Personal summary notes fromthe book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.)

What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR helps those of us who are suffering physically and emotionally. It does this by helping us to help ourselves.

How? Simply by learning to live intentionally from moment to moment.

MBSR:-

- Never gives up on us.
– Allows each moment to be a new beginning, a new opportunity to start over.
– Gives us permission to live our moments fully & completely
– Provides us with a set of tools.
– Teaches us to listen to our minds and our bodies
– Encourages us to trust our own experience
– Offers us a different way of being
– Gives us another way of looking at our problems
– Provides us with a way of coming to terms with the full catastrophe of our lives, that somehow makes our lives richer and more joyful.
– Gives us a sense of being more in control.

This way of being is ‘the way of awareness’, or ‘the way of mindfulness’.

(Personal summary notes of the book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.)