Welcome to the Department of Meditation, where you are treated to the ageless wisdom and inimitable wit of our very own meditation guru, Constance Wilkinson, psychotherapist and card-carrying Buddhist. Constance welcomes your feedback and questions about meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Department of Meditation: Mindfulness Over (Various) Matters
by Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA
Over the last year, my practice of psychotherapy has taken a distinct turn for the better: for example, I find myself thinking about the day’s work and then noticing a distinct feeling of, well, goodness.
Nothing much had changed, at least nothing on the surface. No new job, no new situation, outwardly everything’s pretty much the same – well, okay, a few more agency cases and not so many cases in my private practice, actually, so why would I be feeling better, rather than worse?
I decided to fling a query toward the back of my mind and let the whole matter roll around there, perusing the various layers of my consciousness.
After a few days, at last, presumably from my creative unconscious, up popped an answer: the majority of my patients – clients – people I’m working with – are either experienced meditators with solid individual practices happening well before seeking psychotherapy, or they are new people who are open to learning and practicing meditation.
They began fairly early in their treatment and have been following the shamatha/vipassyana technique I have taught them, and have been actually keeping it up, pretty much on a daily basis.
These fledgling practitioners of meditation are actually seeing results and seeing them rather quickly, in psychotherapy-time (well, in anyone’s time, really).
They report feeling happier; they report feeling much less depressed; they report being much more functional, more able to do whatever it is that’s important to them; they seem to me to be more clear about daily goals and long-term goals; they report having more energy overall.
They seem both pleased and surprised.
I, too, am pleased and surprised by their rather rapid progress – which explains, I’d suggest, the sudden increase in my personal satisfaction with my work.
What therapist doesn’t want to see progress and increased contentment? Who wants therapy to drag on for years without witnessing positive change? Not this one.
The circumstance that all these cases share is a willingness actually to practice meditation: following meditation instructions and integrating short personal practice into their lives as a healthy dependable useful habit, like brushing your teeth or washing your face.
You just do it.
You keep on.
Down the line, you get results.
Things change for the better.
Recently, a book called 10% Happier by ABC’s AM anchor Dan Harris came out. I read it and I recommend it. It’s sub-titled: “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story.”
Harris’ encounter with meditation was spurred by his having a panic attack on TV, while he was on the air, being watched by millions – ouch.
Events occurred after that experience of total panic that brought him in contact with various people who were experienced practitioners; eventually he himself began to practice, practice became a habit, and eventually he attained the results desired.
Well done, Dan Harris.
Speaking about habits, Harris reminds us that most American’s didn’t even brush their teeth on a regular basis until after World War II.
Daily brushing was required by the US military; when soldiers came back home after the war, the soldiers’ habit was adopted by their families and became widespread.
If there can be such a revolution in dental hygiene, why not now an evolution in “mental hygiene” by cultivating the healthy habit of mindfulness?
Says Harris, “In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now – anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever – without getting carried away by it. According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, (we) reject it, or we zone out.
“Cookies: I want.
“Mosquitoes: I reject.
“The safety instructions the flight attendants read aloud on an airplane: I zone out.
Mindfulness is (the) fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with non-judgmental remove.”
Creating a personal meditation is like going to the gym, but cheaper: training awareness in the moment, and working to limit our unhealthy habit of distraction.
Bringing our attention back to the present moment again and again is like doing bicep curls, again and again, over and over, building and strengthening the muscle of mindfulness.
Eventually this muscle works more on its own, sustaining a wider mindful awareness even during post-meditation sessions – which means, basically, the whole of our lives.
With five minutes a day of meditation, using proper technique, or even just three minutes, practiced correctly, we cease mindlessly to follow after our discursive thoughts, our habitual cognitions, no longer being automatically swayed by them, no longer automatically believing their content, no longer at their mercy, no longer under their domination.
To become free of our ongoing streams of automatic negative projections created by arising discursive thoughts, will be a big deal. It is a subtle shift with vast repercussions.
You don’t have to believe me, believe them: A recent UCLA/Australian National University study found that there was less cognitive decline with age for meditators.
Good for those, like me, who wish to keep their marbles.
A recent Harvard University study found that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
To become 10% happier? Now wouldn’t that be a consummation devoutly to be wished? And who knows, you might even wind up with a much higher happier percentage!
Try This Simple Meditation:
Sit on a chair or a cushion on the floor. Keep your back relaxed and straight, not rigid.
Allow your eyes to focus on an object of your choice that you place about six feet away. It should be placed so that when your eyes are resting on it, your eyes are cast slightly down, at about a 45 degree angle.
Place your mind, your attention on the object of focus—a blue flower, let’s say. Let your mind rest naturally on the object of focus; breathe naturally.
Don’t try to suppress thoughts. Don’t try to create a thought-free state.
When you inevitably discover that your mind has drifted off, following your thoughts, say inwardly, without judgment, “Thinking, thinking,” and gently pick up your awareness, and re-place it once again on the object of focus.
Each time you notice that your attention has been distracted away from the object of focus, label it, “thinking, thinking,” and once again re-place your attention on the object of focus.
Drift and notice and focus again; that’s all there is to the practice.
Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA is a licensed psychotherapist who uses a mindfulness-based, solution-focused approach to help reduce symptoms of dysregulation, as well as to develop clients’ personal goals and strategies to achieve them.
She is trained in EMDR, clinical hypnosis, EFT, and expressive arts.
Constance has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in creative writing and an MA in clinical mental health counseling psychology from Lesley University.
Since 1978, she has been practicing meditation and studying with distinguished Tibetan Buddhist refugee teachers in the United States, India, Nepal, and Tibet.
The Center for Change
mindfulness-based, solution-focused psychotherapy
expressive arts – EMDR – clinical hypnosis
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