Q:So many of us are constantly looking inward, thinking about the qualities in ourselves that we’d like to change and often getting nowhere on actually making those changes. In your opinion, is true change possible? And if so how would you go about achieving it?
A:If you’re anything like most people, there’s almost certainly something about yourself you’d really like to change. It might be the way you think, the way you feel, or the way you look. Either way, living with that desire to change 24/7 can be both exhausting and challenging in equal measure. You may even find yourself wondering if change is even possible. After all, if you’ve always felt anxious, always felt lonely, or always had a busy mind, how could it ever be any different, right? Well, the good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. Change is most definitely possible...if you just know how.
Many people look to the future for change, but if you look a bit deeper, it quickly becomes apparent that anything in the mind relating to the future is nothing but an idea, an image or a projection. So, as long as this idea remains in the future, there is nothing you can do to change it, as it has yet to happen. Other people may look to the past for change, to see what it is they did wrong, why they are left feeling a certain way, analyzing and conceptualizing their situation. But the past has already happened, has already finished, so all we are really doing when we replay these stories in the mind is creating the conditions for these same thoughts and feelings to continue.
In order to create a genuine shift in the way we feel, in our perspective, the way we actually experience life on an everyday basis, it is essential that we look not to the past or the future, but instead to the present moment. Change happens in the here and now. How could it possibly happen anywhere else? Nothing else exists! When we learn how to be present, how to be aware of each and every moment, resting effortlessly in the ups and downs of life, then, and only then, can real change begin to take place. This is what it means to rest in the natural essence of mind. It is an experience rather than an idea and it is only by engaging with it, that we see the benefits.
And that’s where meditation comes in. It is not that meditation causes the change to take place, but rather it creates the conditions for change to take place. It reminds us of that fundamental essence, which is innocent, vulnerable, gentle, kind, content, fulfilled, untouched, uncomplicated and free from habit. This is what it means to rest in the present moment, watching as the body and mind naturally unwind, allowing change to happen effortlessly. I like to think of that essence as the blue sky, always present, always clear. Sure, there might be some cloudy days, but if we sit in the metaphorical deckchair for a short time, day after day, we see the clouds begin to disperse, the habits disappear...and we are left instead with the beauty and wonder of the blue sky.
Q:What's the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
A:While meditating is usually associated with a sitting practice, mindfulness is how you take that practice into everyday life.
Mindfulness has received a huge amount of press in recent years, but it’s often talked about in very vague terms, and so it’s not always easy to understand how it can be applied to everyday activities. It's usually defined as being present, undistracted by thoughts and emotions, and with an attitude of mind which is neither critical nor judgemental. A bit of a mouthful, but all it really means is to live with a sense of happy contentment. This is in sharp contrast to how many people live, caught up in distracting thoughts about the past and the future, swept away by difficult emotions, and often in the habit of criticising themselves or others.