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Mindfulness Meditation - Finding True Inner Peace

by Charles A Francis(more info)

listed in meditation, originally published in issue 225 - October 2015

Many of us spend our whole lives searching for happiness and inner peace. Sadly, some of us never find them. We try to acquire the things that our society tells us will make us happy, such as a great career, nice home, beautiful family, and good friends. While these can bring us much joy and fulfilment, they can also bring us a lot of stress, which can compromise our health and peace of mind.

Mindfulness Meditation

Today, many people are learning how to deal with their stress through the practice of mindfulness meditation. As researchers confirm the many benefits, interest in the practice is growing worldwide. So far, researchers have found that mindfulness meditation can alleviate stress, reduce high blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and more.

In the mental health fields, psychologists are using the practice as an integral part of their treatment of various mental disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and addiction. It is no wonder mindfulness meditation is becoming so popular as a means for transforming lives and cultivating true inner peace.

What Is Inner Peace?

Inner peace is essentially the absence of suffering. We sometimes use the terms inner peace and true happiness interchangeably, though there is a slight difference. Where inner peace is simply complete contentment, with happiness there is an element of excitement or joy. In other words, happiness is a human emotion that arises from inner peace.

On a more existential level, inner peace transcends our ego, which is where human emotions originate. As we develop mindfulness, we begin to see our connection, and identify with the rest of humanity. The ego keeps us trapped in our own body and mind, which can be a very lonely place. As we develop awareness of our interconnectedness with the rest of the world, loneliness and insecurity begin to disappear.

The Four Noble Truths and the Nature of Suffering

If we want to attain true inner peace, then we must first understand the nature of suffering, so that we can learn how to overcome it. In Buddhism, the nature of suffering is summed up in the Four Noble Truths.

First Noble Truth: The Existence of Suffering

Many of us have a limited view of suffering. We tend to simply view suffering as mental or emotional anguish. While this is indeed suffering, there is more to it than that. Suffering can also be much more subtle. For example, how do you feel when:

  • Someone makes a rude comment to you;
  • Someone harms an innocent person;
  • Your mind doesn’t stop racing;
  • When you have an important meeting or speech coming up.

These types of situations can make us feel uneasy, or stressed, but we don’t normally associate them with suffering. The truth is, anything that makes us uncomfortable, no matter how little, is suffering.

The First Noble Truth tells us that life is filled with suffering. As long as we have a conscious mind and emotions, we are capable of suffering. And we cannot be truly at peace until we learn how to overcome our suffering and become resilient to it.

Second Noble Truth: The Origins of Suffering

There are differing views in Buddhism about the exact origins of suffering. Some believe that suffering is the result of attachment, or clinging, and others believe that it is simply ignorance. I actually think it is both.

It is a natural reaction for us to get attached to things that bring us some form of pleasure or emotional gratification. We often become attached to people, places, things, views, memories, and beliefs. We become attached because they fulfil a need for what we believe is necessary for our happiness. However, when we lose something we’re strongly attached to, we can experience a great deal of suffering. The idea is not to become attached to these things.

The concept of non-attachment can be a difficult one to grasp. Many of us associate attachment to a person as love. However, the two are different. In true love, we are more concerned about the other person’s well-being, over them fulfilling our emotional needs. If we love them, but are not attached to them, we would be willing to let them go if we believe they would be happier in a different situation. It is important to note that non-attachment doesn’t necessarily mean that people will leave us: it just means we’re not clinging to them mentally and emotionally.

How ignorance can contribute to our suffering is a little easier to understand. We often make decisions without having complete information or understanding of the consequences of our actions. This is not necessarily a shortcoming on our part, but simply a fact of life. It is impossible for us to know every aspect of a particular situation, because there are an infinite number of factors related to it. So, very often we make decisions and take action with unintended and unpleasant consequences, and these consequences can lead to much suffering in ourselves and other people.

Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Suffering

The Third Noble Truth tells us that it is possible to be free of suffering if we let go of our attachments, and develop greater awareness, or mindfulness, of the true nature of reality. This may be easier said than done, but it is possible to make great strides in that direction. In order to let go of our attachments, we need to change our views about what creates happiness, or more importantly, inner peace. This is a natural outcome of becoming more mindful. Mindfulness also helps us become more aware of the consequences of our actions, so that we can behave in ways that create less suffering for ourselves and other people.

Fourth Noble Truth: The Path that Leads to the Cessation of Suffering

According to Buddhism, the way to overcome suffering is through the Noble Eightfold Path: 1) Right view, 2) Right thinking, 3) Right speech, 4) Right action, 5) Right livelihood, 6) Right effort, 7) Right concentration, and 8) Right mindfulness. Now, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to see that these are good wholesome principles to live by. However, they do take some effort and diligence to incorporate into our lives. This is what we call mindful living.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is a secular form of meditation that has it’s roots in the oldest form of meditation the Buddha taught over 2,500 years ago. In recent years, there has been a movement toward extracting the basic techniques from the religion. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to achieve freedom from our suffering by becoming aware of, and eliminating, the sources of our suffering.

Mindfulness meditation is a training of the mind that will help us develop mindfulness, so that we can become aware of the true nature of reality, and who we are at the deepest levels. We do this by training our mind to observe ourselves and the rest of the world more objectively without our views being influenced by our emotions or preconceived ideas.

Basics of the Mindfulness Meditation Practice

At the core of the mindfulness meditation practice is the development of our skills of observation - concentration and mindfulness. To do so, we must structure our meditation around them. Here are some basic guidelines for a typical meditation session:

Sitting Position. Sit in a comfortable chair without armrests; back straight, and feet flat on the floor. Keep your hands in a comfortable position, either on your thighs or in front of you with fingers interlaced. The main purpose of our sitting position is to be alert and comfortable. Do not lie down, as you’ll probably fall asleep.

Concentration. Use the counting technique to help you develop your concentration. During your meditation, count your breaths 1 through 5 silently in your mind. When you get to 5, simply start over again. Keep your attention focused on the air passing through the tip of your nose. When you find that your mind has wandered, immediately bring your attention back to your breath. Concentration meditation will help you develop mental discipline, and keep you grounded in the present moment.

Mindfulness. After a few minutes of concentration meditation, switch to mindfulness meditation. Continue observing your breath. However, instead of counting each one, simply observe the entire breathing process mindfully. This means that you are relaxed, and not forcing yourself to do anything. When distracting thoughts arise, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Loving-Kindness Writing Meditation

Writing meditation is a technique I developed to help you reprogram your subconscious for more wholesome attitudes and behaviour. It is based on the loving-kindness meditation practised in various Eastern spiritual traditions. However, instead of simply reading, listening to, or reciting the affirmations, you copy them by hand over and over for about 5-10 minutes a day. That’s it. After a few days, you’ll notice your behaviour changing without any conscious effort. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve had unwanted habits, the writing meditation will change them in just a few days. Here is a sample of the meditation:

“May I be healthy and strong. May I be safe and protected. May I be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May I be happy and joyful. May I be patient and understanding. May I be loving, kind, compassionate, and gentle in my ways. May I be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May I be diligent and committed to my spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May my True Nature shine through, and onto all beings I encounter.”

The verses that follow in the exercise, direct the affirmations to other people in our lives, such as those in our household, neighbourhood, city, and so forth. What this does is subconsciously change our attitudes about other people, which helps us improve our relationships, and heal the wounds from our past.

The 12 Steps of the Mindfulness Meditation Practice

One of the challenges of following the Noble Eightfold Path is that you need to refer to the original scriptures, or read commentary from Buddhist scholars, to find out how to put it into practice. While it may seem logical that practising right thinking and right speech are good things, who is to say what is right or wrong? This is why I developed the 12 Steps of the Mindfulness Meditation Practice. They give practitioners exact step-by-step instructions for developing mindfulness, so they can determine for themselves with a clearer mind what is right or wrong.

The first five Steps give you the basic principles and techniques of mindfulness meditation. Steps 6-9 provide you with tools for enhancing your practice, such as deep listening, mindful speech, and the meditation group. And the remaining Steps show you how mindful living can help take your personal development to a higher level. The 12 Steps are designed to make the development of mindfulness as simple as possible, so you can realize your goal of true inner peace.

One of the important aspects of the 12 Steps is that they help practitioners stay engaged in their meditation practice. Many people start a meditation practice, but have difficulty staying committed long-term. The 12 Steps give you tools to help you stay engaged, such as a goal statement exercise, and the meditation group for ongoing support.

As you can see, the mindfulness meditation practice has various tools for helping you transform your life and realize true inner peace. By calming your mind and emotions, you can begin to see the world, and your relationship to it, with much greater clarity. This will enable you to make better decisions in your life, so you can bring more peace and harmony, not only into your own life, but also into the lives of those around you.

Eastern spiritual traditions have blessed us with the tools to achieve happiness and inner peace, no matter what our spiritual background may be. The great thing about mindfulness meditation is that there is no doctrine or belief that you need to accept, so you don’t need to convert from your current spiritual faith. And the practice fits in well with one of the most prominent trends in the West, to achieve inner peace through secular spiritual practices.

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About Charles A Francis

Charles A Francis is the cofounder and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute, and author of the new book, Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding True Inner Peace (Paradigm Press). He is also the creator of the 12 Steps of the Mindfulness Meditation Practice. He is a speaker and consultant, and has a passion for helping people and organizations realize their full potential through the practice of mindfulness. He leads workshops and retreats in Raleigh, NC where he resides. To learn more about him and the Mindfulness Meditation Institute, visit: www.MindfulnessMeditationInstitute.org

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