“The stormy life can be braved only by the Heart’s sunny meditations.” -Sri Chimnoy.
As we find ourselves situated in the depths of Winter, many people will be looking for ways to cope with the short days and long nights, the inclement weather, the post-holiday blues, colds and flu, and a sense of longing for a seemingly friendlier season. Particularly in northern urban areas, this time of year can feel exhausting, isolating and endlessly gray. Even for those who love to play in the wonderland of snow, life in the city in the winter is usually fraught with challenges that can take a toll mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
But this time of year is also one where many people embrace and enhance their commitments to self-care. More people start participating in yoga centers, buying gym memberships, engaging in wellness activities like healthy cooking classes and various dietary cleanses, and finding all kinds of ways to care more for the temple of mind-body-spirit. So as much as it can be a time of struggle with the elements and “the blahs,” it can also be a time of abundance, resilience and perseverance. It is a time when the human spirit can, ultimately, triumph.
So, this is also a perfect time to dive more deeply into meditation and mindfulness practice! Meditation can be one of the simplest, most sustainable and rewarding ways to work with difficult feelings, emotions and experiences of stress or mental fatigue. Through the practice of connecting with the present moment and the experience of non-judgmental awareness, we can become more awake and more energized to deal with what is happening internally and in the world around us.
There has been an incredible amount of ground-breaking research on the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation practice in recent years. There are currently over 500 studies being funded by the National Institute of Health and many more in the development stages. There are amazing programs available all around the world in Mindfulnes Based Cognitve Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). These approaches have been developed out of the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn who in he 1970’s researched ways meditation practice could help people work with chronic pain issues, long before mindfulness was a common term in the cultural dialogue.
Professor Mark Williams, a director at Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre, explains that these practices are so helpful because they help the individual break free from the overwhelming tendency to ruminate on the past or project into the future: “It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
As human beings, our minds can become like Velcro for negativity and we can lose sight of all the bountiful potential that is inherent in the present moment. This negativity bias is actually rooted in our evolutionary hard-wiring. As an individual survival mechanism and in the interest of the safety of our tribes as early hominids, our awareness evolved to be fearful. The world around us was threatening and ominous, and there were very real consequences of lapsed attention when we were at constant risk of being eaten.
But as we have developed as a species, these evolutionary cognitive pathways have morphed into mental attachments, projected fears, insecurities, anxieties and depression. Understanding this theory is crucial, but as for the actual practice of cutting through all this mental clutter, mindfulness meditation is essential.
Chogyam Trungpa says that meditation offers the practitioner “glimpses of spaciousness that help us to become a more awake, open and generous person.” Through a commitment to “making friends” with our minds through a mindfulness practice, we can begin to transcend the negativity bias and experience the beauty of the human heart.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels, a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the New York City community. More info at: threejewels.org