Long ago, in the American West, settlers from the eastern seaboard would describe having yearned for the “far country”. Their imagination and wanderlust led them to actualize their vision of a good life for themselves, their families, and their communities. The amount of time and effort involved in manifesting their goals and dreams was, of course, stupendous. Today, all of us have our own goals and dreams of a far country, a distinct yearning for the good health and ongoing well-being of our families and ourselves.
When we think about the action steps required to obtain such ongoing good health we primarily think about a healthy diet and a consistent program of regular vigorous exercise. The component of healthy living that we don’t often consider is that of a positive mental attitude. But how we think, that is, the kind and quality of thoughts that we pay attention to throughout the day, has much to do with our health and welfare. As an example, most people are aware of the relationship between having so-called negative thoughts and experiencing outcomes in life that are less than desirable. A plethora of best-selling self-help books tell us that we need to develop the habit of thinking positive thoughts. But despite the abundance of this well-intentioned advice, most of us do not know how to successfully create such a beneficial internal environment.
The concept of mindfulness provides an effective solution. One of the goals of mindfulness training is for the person to become increasingly “present”, that is, to become an integral part of this moment, rather than paying attention to thoughts regarding what is past or thoughts regarding what is to come. It’s easy to see that such mindfulness, that is, being present, would require a great deal of practice. In contrast, for most of us, our thoughts are jumping around pretty much at the speed of light. The numerous and diverse thoughts pressing upon us in any instant pull us in multiple directions. However, it’s important to realize that it is ourselves, our conscious intentions, who do the pulling. We are the ones who are choosing to be so distracted. Making the choice, moment by moment, to be focused on the here and now provides a powerful solution. Meditation, one of the practices of being present, is a powerful and freely available method for developing life-affirming mindfulness.1
No equipment is required in order to learn to meditate, other than a comfortable cushion or chair. You close your eyes and focus on your breath, imagining your breath going up your spine in the back on the inhalation and going down your spine in the front on the exhalation. That’s it. After the first cycle of breathing you count “1” and add “1” to your count on each breath cycle until you reach “10”. Then you begin again with “1”. But if you notice your thoughts going to anything other than your breath, you start over again from “1”. Even the most experienced meditators rarely get beyond the count of “4” or “5”. The benefit is in the practice itself, not how far you can get in the count. The practice itself teaches you to be present and this is a benefit that will be of great value to you and how your interact with your family and the members of your community. Meditation practice will provide substantial assistance in your process of becoming healthy and well.2,3
1Zeidan F, et al: Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia. J Neurosci 35(46):15307-15325, 2015
2Reiner K, et al: A Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Increases Pain Threshold and Accelerates Modulation of Response to Tonic Pain in an Experimental Study. Pain Med 2015 Aug 8. doi: 10.1111/pme.12883. [Epub ahead of print]
3Neuendorf R, et al: The Effects of Mind-Body Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2015;2015:902708. doi: 10.1155/2015/902708. Epub 2015 Jun 16.