Training for Mindfulness Meditation Trainers

When discussing what is required to be a mindfulness meditation trainer, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach spoke about what they have incorporated in their Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program to help build the requisite qualities.

They explained that fundamentally it is a relationship-based program through interaction with peer groups and individual/group mentors, as well as with the program teachers.  This interaction is built around the central online video teaching and meditation practices.

The Practicum

The meditation teacher program incorporates a practicum in the second year which involves teaching an introductory 4 or 6 weeks course.  The practicum can cover any related area such as teaching neuroscience, valuing diversity or the principles and practice of positive psychology.

Design and implementation of the practicum is supported through the mentoring groups.  This aspect of the mindfulness teacher training program is aligned with the principles of action learning which involves people learning through planning and action and reflecting on the outcomes, intended and unintended.

Content areas of the meditation teacher program

Jack and Tara identified a number of aspects of meditation training covered in the program including:

  • mindful movement practices
  • pedagogy – principles and practice
  • different models of teaching
  • the role of the teacher
  • the ethics of meditation training
  • multicultural sensitivity
  • fear and trauma
  • social activism

Handling difficult questions is an aspect that is discussed in the mentoring groups as a way of building trust and relationships and drawing on the wisdom of the group.    Dyads are also employed as a mode of sharing and learning.

The program emphasises what mindfulness involves in the modern era and incorporates personal reflection, journaling and discussion with other international participants.  It is designed to fully equip participants to conduct meditation training with different groups of people while sharing their own in-depth meditation experience and employing a wide range of meditation practices.

After completing the program, participants may choose not to undertake meditation training for others.  However, through their mindful presence in their day-to-day roles, such as management educators or nurses, they can impact the lives of others in a positive way.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can positively influence the lives of others through our calmness, understanding, clarity, kindness and compassion.

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What is Required to be A Mindfulness Meditation Trainer

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach in a recent video session, Answering the Call, discussed their advanced training for people who want to become certified mindfulness meditation trainers and identified what is required to be a trainer in this area.

Personal prerequisites to become a mindfulness meditation trainer

Tara and Jack discussed a number of prerequisites including heartfelt intention and an experience base to enable sharing realised, personal benefits from mindfulness practice.   To start on this journey, potential meditation trainers must have a genuine desire to share their knowledge, skills and experience for the benefit of others who may be dealing with difficulties in coping with everyday life. So, the starting point is a desire to share in an understanding and compassionate way.

A related prerequisite is experience of daily meditation practice and its benefits.  This is critical as genuine sharing can motivate others.  The experience base of personal meditation practice is essential to be in a position to guide others and respond knowledgably to penetrating questions.

Personal skills and perspectives required for Meditation trainers

It takes courage to set out on this journey, together with trust in your own capabilities to teach meditation practice.  Self-awareness, gained through daily meditation practice, is important to enable you to monitor what you are thinking, feeling and doing and what impact these are having on others. Associated with this, is a willingness to be vulnerable in the course of teaching meditation.   Forgiveness meditation, as taught by Diana Winston, can be very helpful in this regard.

A fundamental skill in any form of coaching or training is the ability to listen for understanding.  Effective listening builds trust and relationships and is a basis for credibility as it demonstrates that you have your “ego” under control, do not push your own agenda and can effectively manage your own emotions.  Listening communicates that you value the relationship, are open to the needs of others and are willing to help them explore possible solutions to problems they are experiencing.

Self-management, then, is critical to become an effective mindfulness meditation trainer.  This extends to issues of money, power and sex.  It is easy to become carried away with the power of influence that you will enjoy (particularly if you do not have your ego under control).  Having unresolved needs can make you more vulnerable to the temptation to misuse your power to gain favours, whether sexual or monetary.  Therefore a strong commitment to ethical practice is essential.

As you grow in mindfulness through your own daily meditation practice, you will develop the desire to share the benefits with others to help them cope with the pressures of modern life.  You will be well placed if you have developed self-awareness and self-management and have a depth of experience to enable sharing in a confident and trusting way.  The process of teaching meditation, in turn, will build your own mindfulness, confidence and trust in your capacity to teach.

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Advanced Training for Mindfulness Trainers

In a previous post, I discussed resources for mindfulness trainers – free resources through Sounds True and a paid online training course, The Power of Awareness, by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.  In this post, I will discuss an advanced course that takes training for mindfulness trainers to another level.

The Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program

This is  a teacher program over two years conducted by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach supported by global leaders in mindfulness.  One of the prerequisites for this certification program is completion of the 7 week, online Power of Awareness Course.

The Mindfulness Certification Program for teachers of mindfulness incorporates a range of activities designed to build your capacity to teach practices in awareness and compassion, while simultaneously building your own practice in these areas.

The content of the course is provided mainly by online audio and video training supplemented by two, three-day weekend events with Jack, Tara, guest teachers and fellow international participants in Washington.  Where participants are unable to attend the in-person sessions, live streaming is available at the time of each session and the sessions will be available in downloadable video format.

The core audio and video training is augmented by additional presentations by Tara, Jack and globally recognised, guest mindfulness teachers such as Deepak Chopra, Dan Siegel, Eckhart Tolle, Kristin Neff (self-compassion) and Anne Cushman (integration of meditation and yoga).  Participants in the certified teacher training program will also have access to the latest research findings on the benefits of mindfulness and specific forms of meditation.

Mentoring in the mindfulness teacher training program is led by Pat Coffey, assisted by highly trained mentors from the Awareness Training Institute.  Mindfulness practice will be developed through individual and group mentoring, online training sessions, practice groups with peers, a “self-designed practicum” and home practice of meditation exercises provided in audio format through the program.

Skill development will cover not only a wide range of meditation practices and applications (such as managing pain and suffering, dealing with trauma, handling relationship problems and conflict) but also specific skills to give presentations, mentor individuals and facilitate group sessions with mindfulness learners.

Certification will be provided in the form of a Certificate of Completion jointly authorised by The Awareness Training Institute and the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley.

As we grow in mindfulness, we will experience a desire to share our learning with others to help them also realise the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  In teaching, we can enrich our own learning and practice.  The Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program is designed to give us the credentials and confidence to engage in mindfulness training.

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What If I Fall Asleep During Meditation?

I have been discussing feelings and emotions – recognising your feelings and naming those feelings.  But what If I fall asleep during meditating on my feelings?  That happened to me the other day when I was doing a mindful breathing meditation for five minutes.

The natural tendency is to “beat up” on yourself.  It was only five minutes, why couldn’t I stay awake for that short time?  I must be doing it wrong.  How can I ever sustain the effort for 20 or 40 minutes?  I’ll never be able to master this meditation process!

Being non-judgmental about sleepiness during meditation

Jack Kornfield suggests that it is important to be non-judgmental – doing so, is not only counter-productive but may feed your natural tendency to judge yourself negatively.  He suggests that you can get in touch with the feeling of sleepiness and treat yourself with kindness.

Sometimes, we feel sleepy because of the strain of dealing with negative feelings – of allowing them to come to the surface.  The body may feel overwhelmed by the strength of the emotion and decide it is too difficult to handle. Alternatively, your body may take this opportunity to catch some rest if you have been living a very fast-paced life.

Meditation involves relaxation – relaxing into our breath and freeing our body from points of tension.  So, it is only natural that this will open us up to the challenge of falling asleep during meditation.  However, if it happens in the early stages or only occasionally, it is nothing to worry about.

If falling asleep does occur in the early stages of your learning to meditate, accept that this is part of the learning process.  Your body and mind have to adjust to the new pace and focus (the present)- and this takes time.  It will help you to build your patience to persist without judging yourself – a patience that will increase your capacity for self-management.

If sleepiness during meditation persists for months, you may need to take a serious look at your lifestyle – it may indicate that you are constantly consuming your emergency energy supply (drawing on a second breath all the time or persisting through sheer will power).

Some helpful hints for overcoming sleepiness during meditation

Mindspace.com has some very good suggestions to manage your sleepiness if it occurs frequently during meditation.  These suggestions relate mainly to considering your environment, your timing and your posture during meditation.

It is important that your environment is conducive to meditation.  Having a flow of fresh air by opening a window may help – this is similar to the recommendation to open the windows of a car if you are feeling drowsy as the fresh air may help to keep you awake as it blows on you.  Location is important too – so avoid meditating on or in your bed.  Besides inducing sleep because this is where you go to sleep each day, it potentially develops the habit of wakefulness when in bed – which is the last thing you want!

Timing for your meditation is important.  I have suggested having a set time each day to meditate to build the habit of meditating.  However, if this timing coincides with when your are typically very tired, then you will have great difficulty overcoming sleepiness during meditation.  If you are a “morning person” (who wakes up early and declines in energy as the day progresses) perhaps a morning meditation session is best; if you are “night person” (slow to wake up and gains energy as the day progresses) then maybe a night meditation session is best.  You need to find what best suits your own body clock.

Your posture can affect your meditation and your capacity to stay awake.  It is suggested that you sit upright rather than lying down during meditation.  Some even suggest placing a pillow behind your back to maintain this upright position.  If you are a yoga practitioner, then a sitting yoga position may be conducive to effective meditation.

Other hints to avoid sleepiness during meditation relate to food and drink.  Meditating immediately after a meal can induce sleep because your body tends to be drowsy as it digests the food.  Coffee, on the other hand, can act as a stimulant and can create dependence as well as reinforcement of the linkage between the stimulant and the act of meditating.  Meditation is a natural process and involves becoming attuned to your body, so using stimulants, such as coffee, can work against the goals of meditation – hence it is good to leave the coffee to after meditation.

I will leave the final word to Andy Puddicombe who has some summary advice in his video on Why do I keep falling asleep?

As you grow in mindfulness, you will progressively overcome sleepiness during meditation because your body and mind will gradually adjust to the unfamiliar activity.  You will not overcome sleepiness during meditation entirely – there will still be times when you are very tired and fall asleep while meditating.  However, if you treat yourself non-judgmentally and gently, you will overcome these minor setbacks to your progress in mindfulness.

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Naming Your Feelings to Tame Them

In the previous post, I discussed recognising our feelings.  This involved firstly, acknowledging that a very wide range of emotions are the essence of being human, and secondly, using mindfulness to get in touch with the feelings we are experiencing.  In this post, we take this process one step further by naming our individual feelings

Why name your feelings?

In his book, Mindsight, Dan Siegel argues that we “Name It to Tame It” – in other words, by naming our feelings we are better able to control them or, at least, lessen their impact as Professor Matthew D. Lieberman found in his research.

Dan argues that to say “I feel angry” is a very different statement, both in content and impact, than the words “I am angry”.  The latter tends to define us as angry person, whereas the former helps us to recognise that we are not our feelings – we are a lot more than what we feel.  Feelings come and go in nature and intensity – our essence remains.  Naming our feelings in a gentle, non-judgmental way affirms our self-worth and opens up the opportunity to master our feelings.

Naming your feelings gives you a sense of power over them and a freedom from servitude to them.  It also creates new perspectives and a spaciousness for the release of creativity.  As Dr. Ornish noted:

When you take time for your feelings, you become less stressed and you can think more clearly and creatively, making it easier to find constructive solutions.

The challenge of naming your feelings

Often we suppress our feeling or deny them because we are embarrassed to admit that we have those feelings.  Another issue is that often they come in a bundled format – a number of intertwined feelings linked together by a stimulus event or thought.  So, it is often hard to untangle them to identify and name each one.

Jack Kornfield tells the story of his encounter with a young man who said that he was depressed.  So Jack sat with him and entered into a conversation to help him to find out what was happening emotionally for him.  The young man started talking and first identified being worried, then angry, then discouraged, then sad – and finally, he was able to see a way ahead rather than being held captive by this undigested mix of feelings.  I had a similar experience recently, where I passed through a progressive range of feelings – unease, anxiety, fear, anger, empathy – only to identify creative solutions to the issue that was disturbing me.

Thus we need to take time to get in touch with our feelings and to name them.  Sometimes, we can be lost for words to name our feelings.  However, there are a wide range of resources such as the list of feelings (pleasant and unpleasant/difficult).  These feeling words open up the opportunity to get in touch with, and be more descriptive of, what we are actually feeling (rather than using a vague catch-all descriptor which does not strengthen our sense of emotional control).

Jack Kornfield suggests a meditation to help here as well.  It involves the typical process of mindful breathing followed by body scan and then identifying any feeling that you are experiencing through your body – it could be tightness brought on by anxiety, a tingling sensation from nervousness or a speeding-up of your breath resulting from a felt fear.  Acknowledging this feeling and naming it, without judgement, is the first step to dealing with it and gaining self-mastery.  After naming one feeling, you can move onto another feeling during this meditation process.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness meditation on our feelings we gain the insight to name and tame those feelings and open up new perspectives on, and solutions for, existing problems.

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Recognising Our Emotions and Our Feelings

In the previous post, I explored the benefits of mindful breathing in terms of increased self-awareness and self-management and the capacity to become more in touch with our breathing.  As we develop our mindfulness practice, we are able to move beyond breathing mindfully to recognise our emotions and feeling states.

The emotional roller-coaster of life

Feelings are “part and parcel” of being human.   If we ignore them or suppress how we feel, emotions will take over our lives – we will be controlled and overwhelmed by them.  Previously, we saw the physical and psychological damage caused by suppressed feelings in a toxic work environment and when midwives suffered trauma in silence following a critical incident.

We can allow emotions to work for us or against us – we can learn to recognise them and treat them with loving awareness and kindness.  Too often we attempt to deny or ignore our painful feelings because they cause discomfort and upset our expectation of a pleasant life.  Jack Kornfield, in the Power of Awareness Course, reminds us that we seek to make our life comfortable in so many ways – we seek the comfort of air conditioning or a soft pillow or mattress.  He points our that we try to deny the conflicting reality of being human – lives that engender joy and pain; praise and blame; elation and depression; happiness and sadness; gain and loss.

We assume that things will go along as expected – until we are confronted with a serious illness or a substantial loss or defeat.  Jon Kabat-Zin suggests that it is “certifiably absurd” to assume that things will always go on the way they are now.  He argues that “stress really has to do with wanting things to stay the same when they are inevitably going to change” – the fundamental “law of impermanence”.

Mindfulness and recognising our emotions

Mindfulness meditation can give us the capacity to handle the wide range of emotions that we will have to deal with in life.  This is not to say that we will not experience upsets or “come to grief”, but that we will reduce our reactivity to these emotions and regain balance more easily – we will have the ability to “bounce back” more quickly.  In other words, we will develop our resilience.  Jack Kornfield reminds us that recent neuroscience research confirms the view that mindfulness builds resilience and creates a “window of tolerance” – a greater openness to life events that we experience as adverse or painful.

Matt Glaetzer epitomised this expanded tolerance of adverse events in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018.  Matt was world champion and Commonwealth Games record holder for a sprint cycling event he contested and was also the fastest qualifier for the 2018 sprint event.  Yet he was beaten by the slowest qualifier, Malaysian Muhammad Sahrom, and was eliminated from the race and did not make the quarter finals.  Matt was “gutted” and devastated by this defeat and the loss of a real gold medal chance.

However, Matt had to race the 1,000 metre individual cycling sprint the following day.  He went on to win this time trial race and the Gold Medal.  When asked how he recovered his balance, Matt stated that “I had to regroup, sometimes things don’t go the way you plan them”.   He sought out the support of family, team mates and friends; said a prayer; and reset his mind to get his “head space in the right area“.  This changed mindset involved not wallowing in his utter disappointment but focusing on winning a gold medal for Australia.   Matt faced the depth of his emotions and feelings after the embarrassing loss and focused his mind on his next goal, rather than “beat up” on himself for making a bad tactical error in the first race.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can liberate ourselves from the potential tyranny of our emotions by recognising them for what they are, by understanding their influence on our thinking and behaviour and by taking constructive steps to manage our emotions to  gain self-acceptance and balance and avoid reactivity.

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The Power of Awareness: Mindful Breathing

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, in their online Power of Awareness Mindfulness Training, stress the importance of mindful breathing as a universal practice that is foundational to developing mindfulness.  Jack not only leads participants in a mindful breathing practice, but also explains the rich rewards of this practice.

Why practice mindful breathing?

Mindful breathing is, perhaps, the simplest and most accessible mindfulness practice.  It can be done anywhere, anytime because we are always breathing, whether we are conscious of it or not.  Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that it is lucky that our breathing is not dependant on conscious thought, otherwise we would stop breathing because we are so often unaware of what is going on within and around us.

In a talk to Google staff, he explained to the managers and programmers present that they could easily take a few moments and do mindful breathing at their desk during the day.  Mindful breathing is so powerful because it gives us access to both self-awareness and self-management.

Developing self-awareness through mindful breathing

Jack talks about breathing mindfully as opening a window to ourselves.  If we are having trouble starting the practice – by locating a place in our body where we sense our breath (e.g. in our chest, throat, nose or stomach) – then this tells us something about our lack of awareness.

As a window, mindful breathing allows us to look in on ourselves – to notice the thoughts and their content that pass through our minds, to sense the tightness in various parts of our body and to understand the link between our emotions and our bodily reactions, e.g. fear creating tightness in our chest, nervousness causing us to shake.  We become acutely aware of our emotions and the connection between our mind and emotions and our emotions and our body.

The secret to mindful breathing is to not entertain our thoughts but to let them float by, while noticing what they are telling us about ourselves.  What do we think about most – is our mind always in the past or the future?  Do our thoughts depress us or create anxiety?  Are we always planning, not stopping to experience the moment?

Developing self-management through mindful breathing

Even the way we are breathing is rich with information about ourselves – is our breathing getting faster (anxiety coming on) or slower (learning to relax).  Are we becoming conscious of the space between our in-breath and our out-breath?  With our growth in self-awareness comes the opportunity to develop self-management.

Conscious breathing is used worldwide for self-management in a range of contexts – midwives encourage birthing mothers to breathe slowly and deeply; remedial massage therapists encourage you to breathe through the pain; and people who teach singing, like Chris James, begin with explaining to people how to breathe properly to release the tension in our bodies and vocal cords.

We know intuitively that if we slow down our breathing, we can become more relaxed and less anxious.   Some self-management practices, such as the SBNRR process previously explained in relation to managing negative triggers, begin with stopping and breathing consciously but slowly.

Mindful breathing practice itself does not require us to control our breath, but to notice it by focusing on where we can sense it in our bodies.  Increasingly, we become aware of the stillness and spaciousness in mindful breathing.  However, it does take practice to realise the full benefits of mindful breathing.

Jack suggests that, as a starting point, we practice breathing mindfully twice a day for five minutes each time.  He suggests that if we do this at a regular place and time, the habit will be sustained.  The secret to success in developing awareness is to start small, but start now.

Breathing mindfully helps us to slow the pace of our life, to access our creativity and to develop calm and clarity.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindful breathing, we open the window to self-awareness and enhance our capacity for self-management.

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Calming the Busyness of Our Minds

Haruki Murakami, the famous Japanese author, in his book  A Wild Sheep Chase,  gives us an insight into the busyness of our minds when his lead character comments:

My body was hazed to the core, but my mind kept swimming swiftly around through the convoluted waterways of my consciousness, like a restless aquatic organism.

This churning of our brains, stimulated by endless disruptive advertising, means that we spend so little time just being still in both mind and body.  There is so much of life we miss out on because we are so unaware with our focus oscillating beyond the present to the past or the future.  As Andy Puddicombe suggests, it only takes ten minutes a day to be still and do nothing, while experiencing calmness and happiness – escaping the torment of a turbulent mind.

Jack Kornfield, in discussing awareness, tells the story of a famous violinist who took part in an experiment to demonstrate peoples’ lack of awareness.  The violinist was due to play in a concert on a particular night before 1,000 people.  However, during the day of the concert, he set up in a busy street in New York and started playing his violin in his inimitable, brilliant style.  At the end of the day, he had only $17 USD in his hat which he had left out for donations.  Very few people stopped to listen, only young children tended to stop and take in the music.

Most people who walked past the violinist, or hurried past, were “lost in thought” – unable to hear and focus on the beauty of the music.  If only we could recapture the wonder of young children who are intensely attuned to their senses and not yet captured by their minds.  To wonder at what we hear or see, taste or touch, or smell. requires us to be present like a child.  It takes awareness and the ability to still the ferment of our minds.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness practice, we can learn to calm the busyness of our minds and to value stillness and silence – the nurturing environment for creativity and mental health and wellbeing.

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Fear of Awareness Training

We all have fears and doubts when we are experiencing something new – whether it’s travel overseas, a new job, moving to a new home in a new location or country, meeting a new partner or participating in a training course. So, it is perfectly natural to have an approach/avoidance relationship with a course in awareness training.

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, creators of the Power of Awareness Mindfulness Training, are very conscious of what people are experiencing when they begin to look at the possibility of undertaking their online awareness training course.

Potential participants are concerned that they cannot fit the seven-week course into their busy lives.  They question whether their knowledge and understanding are advanced enough for them to be doing an intensive course, whether they will be able to keep up to the others in the course or whether they will be able to contribute effectively to the group or individual coaching sessions.

One of the greatest fears can be that they will expose their weaknesses, deficiencies or lack of knowledge and skill – that they will potentially make a “fool of themselves”. They may also fear that they may discover something about themselves that they do not like.

The facilitators provide some assurance that the course is planned in detail to enable people to progress through bite-sized chunks, at their own pace, and with lots of support. Videos, written exercises and meditation practices are readily available for use during the course and for ongoing practice afterwards.

Jack and Tara also point out that our doubts and fears are the very “bread and butter” of the course, as these negative emotions are often what holds us back from realising our potential and enjoying innate and pervasive happiness.

The first step then is facing our fears and doubts in a mindful way and informing ourselves of what the course provides and how to make the best use of the resources and support provided.  Ultimately, it comes down to “having a go” – to open up the opportunity to explore the depths of our inner landscape.

The rewards in doing awareness training are potentially very rich and create the possibility of a more enriched and fulfilling life. As we grow in mindfulness and awareness we can experience greater clarity, calm, insight, creativity and peace.

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Awareness and Happiness

Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, when talking about the power of awareness, identified happiness as a very significant outcome of awareness training.  They explain this outcome in terms of three elements of awareness:

  1. being present
  2. overcoming negative bias
  3. appreciation and gratitude

Being present

If we live in the present, we are not encumbered by anxiety and fear about the future or disappointment and depression about the past.  “Now” is the focus and source of our wellbeing.  Both Jack and Tara point out the Dalai Lama as a prime example of happiness and joy (despite suffering as a result of the loss of culture, freedom and religion by his beloved country of Tibet).

After publishing his book on happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked what was the happiest moment of his life, and he replied after considering the question, “I think now”.  There is a stillness and calm and associated happiness with being able to be “in-the-now”.

Overcoming negative bias

Neuroscience has established that part of our genetic make-up is a negativity bias – we tend to see the negative in a situation and perceive threats even when there are none.   In the past, this has served the human species well and helped our species to survive.   Nowadays, it works against our happiness because we can easily overlook the positive and be blinded by a focus on what is wrong or not working out as we had planned.

As we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we are more readily able to focus on the positive in our lives and overcome our negative conditioning.   We are also better able to evaluate potential stressors and see them for what they are.   This opens us up to enjoying our life more and experiencing happiness more regularly.

Appreciation and gratitude

Awareness opens our minds and hearts and enables us to appreciate the good in our lives and express gratitude for what we have in terms of fitness and health, relationships, our lifestyle and our environment.  We become increasingly conscious of what surrounds us and become more open to joy and happiness.

Appreciation and gratitude serve as barriers to envy and resentment which can so readily diminish our happiness and destroy joy in our lives.

Jack Kornfield explains how mindfulness practices and awareness training increase the capacity for happiness in our lives:

These practices and trainings are really an invitation to allow not only well-being, but the innate happiness that appreciates the sunset and the reflected colors in the windows as the sun goes down, or in the puddles there on the street and the splashes and the smiles of the children as they stomp in the water and the mystery of life.

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