Mindfulness develops qualities of conscious, compassionate awareness and calm abiding. In so doing, it fosters our capacity to be in skilful relationship with ourselves, with others, and with whatever circumstances we may face in life, however unpleasant or difficult. This process begins with learning to be with things as they are now, with clarity and compassion. Through ongoing practice, mindfulness creates the internal conditions for approaching whatever life throws at us with equanimity, non-harm, and insight.
More than thirty years of research confirm that mindfulness practice leads to:
- lower levels of physiological stress
- enhanced immune function
- healthier perspective-taking in times of difficulty
- greater self-awareness and compassion for others
- less emotional volatility
- a reduction in subconscious prejudice, automatic bias, and discrimination
- an improved ability to concentrate
- a higher tolerance for the risk associated with stepping outside the comfort zone to take constructive action, and
- an increased capacity for eudaemonia, the durable state of well-being that isn’t dependent on circumstances.
The Buddhist philosophy in which mindfulness is based makes a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain in life is unavoidable and includes all the losses and uncomfortable situations we cannot control, ranging from an annoying colleague to the death of a loved one. Suffering refers to the ways in which we deepen or amplify our pain by turning away from the difficulties confronting us. Our habitual reactions of avoiding, ruminating, compulsively fixing, craving, attacking, distracting ourselves or sinking into apathy are a few examples of how we (often unintentionally) add suffering to pain.
Both as individuals coping with personal problems and as a society struggling with major environmental and humanitarian crises, we are constantly faced with stress and distress. To varying degrees, we all feel vulnerable. It is how we respond to the challenges facing us that makes the difference.