Mindful

My mother wants to know why I’m meditating. What do you think are the top three benefits?

Anyone paying attention to mindfulness in the news knows a fresh set of benefits is being discovered daily. (Secretly, we’re looking forward to the day when all the major benefits have already been discovered, so that we can really start drilling down: “Mindfulness will help you chew your gum faster!” “Mindfulness will keep you from falling asleep at the opera!”)

In light of that, we like to think of mindfulness as having three major way stations, rather than three major benefits, which begin with you, and end with…well, the whole damn world.

1. Mindfulness is good for you

Not only that, mindfulness is good for the you sitting there reading these words. A lot of the things we spend time on involve planning for the future, or attempting to stave off negative effects we think the future might bring: working hard to save money, eating as healthfully as possible, exercising whenever we find time to do so. And these things are, of course, really important. Nevertheless, their way of attaching to an imagined future state can make the present seem like a petty inconvenience that must be shouldered past in order to get to where we’re really going. In the practice of mindfulness, on the other hand, action and goal become so closely aligned as to occur simultaneously. Imagine if every time you lifted a barbell, 10 pounds of weight dropped off your body. One conscious breath, deployed in the heat of an everyday catastrophe, can actually make it feel as though 10 pounds of weight are being lifted off your chest. Once learned, mindfulness acts not only as something that takes place in the here and now, but something that has immediate effects on the here and now. Moreover, it can realign your attitude toward those things you thought you were doing for “future you” (earning wisely, eating well, exercising), so that the process, taking place here and now in the present tense, feels as meaningful as the imagined goal.

2. Mindfulness is good for everyone around you

When you’re caught up in a loop of negative feelings, you might find yourself having outsized reactions to really ordinary encounters or circumstances. Let’s put it another way. When your mind is feasting on the burrito of negative feelings, what’s bound to result are gaseous expulsions that will result in suffering for yourself and everyone around you equally (especially in elevators and taxi cabs). Mindful awareness helps you recognize that, while you might not be able to un-eat the burrito, you can at least control when and where you unleash its awful payload (for example, out an open window, or down an empty elevator shaft). You have the choice to walk away or redirect your feelings, as opposed to simply unleashing them, and potentially acting counter to the person you really want to be.

On the other hand, you can just tell your mother that your meditating is likely going to cause you to be nicer to her; sometimes that’s all people need to know.

3. Mindfulness is good for everyone around them

One of the wonderful things about being human is that we have the capacity to feel the pain of others, but also their joy. That’s no small thing. The kind word you are able to utter because you are not being distracted by disagreeable thought patterns will reverberate, and accumulate strength as it ping-pongs throughout the world.

On the other hand, you can just tell your mother that your meditating is likely going to cause you to be nicer to her; sometimes that’s all people need to know.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
Tara Healey

Tara Healey is the program director for Mindfulness-Based Learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Jonathan Roberts

Jonathan Roberts is operations manager for Mindfulness-Based Learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

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