“I liked doing the Mindfulness practices and I feel calmer, but can you tell me how I would know that Mindfulness is working for me?”
And why would you start to practice anything if you could tell if it was beneficial or not. I know it works for me and for many, many others. But equally, it mindfulness doesn’t do the job for everyone. So, rather embarrassingly, I was unable to give a good answer to her question in that class and I have been thinking about it ever since. I felt like a fraud not being able to describe the benefits clearly. Sure, one of the attitudes we should have to mindfulness is non striving (you can read about that here), but we still need to know that what we are practicing and practicing again is a worthy use of our time.
And so a few months too late for that participant in my class is the answer I have come up with so far. Its by no means a finished theory or set of ideas. But is a start.
At any given moment we are the result of all our past actions and thoughts and speech and choices. similarly our mind in this moment is the result of all the other moments of mind that have gone before. And all these past happenings shape only how we are but also how we respond to how we are. Without realising the full picture we can become a prisoner to events and ourselves. So it becomes easy to think that this thing we call ‘I’ and what happens to it is the result of purely outside influences; blame gets easily placed on someone else or some event beyond our control.
But mindfulness gives us the skill to step back, even if only for a split second and see how all the past that brought us here is getting us to react without thinking; we are living life on impulse and autopilot. That moment of calm in our practice creates a gap and we can see how thoughts are just thoughts and not us. they arise, stay a while and pass. “Just thinking” as Pema Chodron encourages us to say in meditation. Jon Kabat Zinn says that without mindfulness “we are stuck in the momentum of thoughts coming out our past.”
So really mindfulness gives us the ability to make this present moment a brand new beginning. All we need to do is slow down and stop all our doing and outward activity so that we rest here in this moment. By doing that we give ourselves the chance of a clearer, healthier and more compassionate future.
And so to answer that question that i couldn’t earlier, i would say that you know mindfulness is working for you because you begin to create a new future for yourself free from the autopilot you have unknowingly trusted for so long.