Meditation has been around for thousands of years and there are many different approaches. The most common forms of meditation usually involves focusing on a particular object, such as a word mantra, as in Transcendental Meditation; a divine image as in some forms of Tibetan Buddhist meditation; an inspirational phrase or image, as in Christian contemplative meditation; or mindful contemplation of breathing, as in Buddhist samathameditation. In general, these forms of meditation attempt to cultivate an altered state of consciousness, in which you feel more relaxed and more centered in the present moment, and generally more spiritually uplifted by the contemplation of something greater than the “monkey mind” of our common moment-to-moment thoughts and worries. In this approach the meditator attempts to empty his mind of intrusive thoughts and preoccupations and simply return his focus onto the primary object of meditation. In many ways, these forms of meditation are equivalent to taking a vacation from the emotional stress of life, and there is no doubt that this can be very helpful, allowing us to unwind and refresh our minds. However, as refreshing and relaxing as it may be, we need to remember that this kind of meditation is a vacation, and when we return to our normal activities, we will still have to confront the same old problems caused by the reactive mind.
Such contemplative and concentration based approaches to meditation may be very inspiring and refreshing, but are generally not able to transform emotional suffering and the habitual patterns of reactivity that plague the mind. However, there is another type of meditation that uses a completely different approach to our mental afflictions and emotional stress. Rather than trying to empty the mind of intrusive thoughts and emotions, we turn our attention towards them and surround the emotion or reactive thought with mindfulness. This approach to meditation is called vipassanameditation, insight meditation, or simply mindfulness meditation.
The Buddha taught this form of meditation as a way of transforming the root cause of our emotional suffering and stress. You cannot transform your suffering by avoiding it, but only by working with it and creating the right kind of inner relationship with your inner anxiety, anger, or other form of stress, that promotes healing. Mindfulness is a particular way of relating to our experience, whatever it might be, including our emotions and inner stress, that is based on being fully present and fully awake. Mindfulness is a quality of awareness where we know what is happening in each moment of experience. This is in stark contrast to our more usual sate of reactivity, in which we don’t fully experience things, but react to them. If you react to your painful emotions, your suffering or you negative thoughts with further reactivity then nothing can change. If you stop reacting and respond with mindfulness to your inner pain, then you create a therapeutic space in which change can happen. Mindfulness re-establishes the freedom and choice that habitual reactivity takes away.
In Mindfulness Meditation Therapy (MMT), we make difficult emotions the very focus of our meditation. We do this because we understand that there is no way to escape our inner suffering, and the only way to change suffering is by facing it directly. Mindfulness teaches us how to do just that, how to form a therapeutic relationship with our inner suffering that is open, fully present and not reactive. Learning to cultivate this inner relationship, the mindfulness-based relationship, with your inner emotions and stress is immensely empowering and provides the gateway to inner transformation; it creates the right inner therapeutic space that allows negative emotions to resolve and heal themselves.
When working with emotions, the first part of MMT is learning to recognize the impulse to react. Most of us are not very aware of these impulses, and the result is that they take control of us and ambush our state of mind. So the first step is to see them before they take hold, when they are still in their infancy.
The next step is to form and maintain a mindfulness-based relationship with the impulse-emotion. This is rather like placing a wild animal in a large space: Give it plenty of room and it can’t hurt itself, or you. When you surround your inner suffering with this mindful-space, which is love, then you provide the right environment in which the emotion can soften, unfold, become malleable and transform.
Mindfulness skills and mindfulness meditation can be learned quite easily online, but what you learn will be very much more effective if it is individualized to your specific needs. In Online MMT, we use email correspondence and Skype video conferencing to teach you how to meditate and how to use mindfulness to work on your emotional issues and stress reactions. Online MMT is also a very cost-effective approach, because it focuses directly on the core issues and makes changes at the core level of our emotional reactivity. Visit my website and email me to schedule an appointment.