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Mindful : June 2013
transformation occurred as I allowed myself to rest in the experience of just being. I became more will- ing to experience all the energy of my emotions and feelings—even the unpleasant ones. I stopped fight- ing with myself so much, and with that, ironically, came the very relief I was seeking. Mindfulness these days is strongly associated with stress reduction, and for very good reasons. Mindfulness reduces stress. Full stop. Reducing stress is a great goal. Another full stop. But mindfulness practice can be so much more than stress reduction. Certainly I am less anxious and stressed today than I was a decade ago. But my difficulties haven’t gone away, and neither have my habitual ways of reacting to them. And yet things are better. From what I have seen in myself—and the people I teach mindfulness to—the biggest changes come from letting go of our goals, struggles, and hopes for a cure. At a certain point, focusing our mindfulness practice too much on stress reduction— or any goal—can limit its benefit to us. Real change comes f rom lea rning to make a different relationship with our stresses and difficulties. As I discovered during my early days of practice, mindfulness meditation has built-in mechanisms that free us from the trap of instant salvation. Our goal- oriented mind-set is deeply ingrained a nd persistent, and we need all the help we can get to reorient our- selves to a new way of being—so that we are less eager to run away from where we are in the moment. That’s why it is helpful to settle in for the mind- fulness journey, so we can appreciate its rich view and interesting ride, even—especially—when it doesn’t seem beautiful or smooth. The formal prac- tice of meditation helps us navigate the route, and so do the attitudes we take as we travel. By gently cultivating certain qualities, we create the condi- tions for a shift in perspective, so in time our goals may no longer seem that releva nt, even when, as if by magic, they are achieved. Here are seven quali- ties we can cultivate in our mindfulness practice that will bring benefit to ourselves and others. I t was about a dozen years ago and I was going through a rough bout of depression. I con- vinced myself there must be some ready cure I could find, and I embarked on a frantic tour of the therapeutic merry-go-round to relieve my pain. I desperately reached for any doctor, thera- pist, or support group. I gobbled up whatever advice or pills they offered, but nothing changed. I was still in pain. Eventually I came to mindfulness. At first, I approached it with the same demand for instant relief. But then something unexpected happened. I saw that it was impossible to really follow the instructions for mindfulness meditation—gently paying attention to the flow of breath, allowing things to be just as they are—and strive for results at the same time. So I stopped looking for cures and results, and to my surprise, some helpful openness and clarity began to arise in my mind. I came to know my depression differently. I began to notice its textures and contours, its causes and its effects. I became familiar with its landscape. The difference was this: now I could obser ve my thoughts and feelings without identifying with them so much. As I continued to meditate over the follow- ing months, my stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little. A subtle and profound Ed Halliwell is a mindfulness meditation teacher in the U.K ., blogger for mindful.org, regular contributor to The Guardian’s website, and coauthor of The Mindful Manifesto. in practice 72 mindful June 2013 insight