Unless you live on a digital desert island, you already know mindfulness meditation is good for you. You’ve read the articles proclaiming its well-researched benefits, from stress-reduction to pain management to relief from depression and enhanced overall well-being. The latest studies even suggest that it’s good for your sex life and boosts your immune system. You can’t open a magazine, read a newspaper, or log on to a social media site these days without hearing about some new study that discovers yet another great reason to pause and practice meditation.
Most of the research is based on subjects who have meditated daily for eight weeks as part of a mindfulness based stress reduction course. And yes, just eight weeks of regular meditation practice can transform your life. But the key to reaping the ongoing benefits of mindfulness is to make it not just something you do for twenty or thirty minutes a day, but an integral part of your life. After all, paying careful, nonjudgmental attention to your experience from moment to moment, which is essentially what mindfulness is, has its own inherent value, aside from the tangible results it can confer. Bring this quality of mindful presence to your intimate relationships, for example, and you’ll notice how much more you enjoy them—and how much more love and fulfillment they provide. Take mindfulness with you when you walk the dog or go for a run, and you’ll find that perceptions are sharper, colors are more vivid, and the natural world, even just the trees and birds in the city, touches you in new and unanticipated ways.
Scientific research can’t measure these qualitative changes—but they’re often the most noticeable, and the most immediately satisfying. So if you’re considering practicing mindfulness meditation for the benefits, remember that it’s about more than growing more gray matter or reducing your stress—it’s about improving the overall quality of your life at every level. And in my experience as a meditation teacher, I’ve found that the people close to you will notice the differences long before you do. They’ll remark that you’re not as defensive or irritable as you used to be. Or you’re just more fun to be with, and they’re not sure exactly why.
If you’re thinking about learning mindfulness, then, be prepared to make it more than just a once-a-day thing. Get ready to live it from moment to moment. Because that’s the point of meditation—to act as a training ground for honing a skill that you can then apply in every situation. Mindfulness, in other words, can become a way of life.