I learned how to meditate when I was 5 years old.
My family and I had just finished a delicious curry dinner. I was quietly looking at my Cinderella picture book when my mom asked me to come downstairs:
I’m going to teach you how to thiền, my girl.
Thiền means to meditate in Vietnamese. Every month at the Buddhist temple, I watched the adults do mindfulness meditation.
But I never tried it myself. I didn’t understand why I should meditate, but I listened to my mom anyway.
With the crack of a match, she lit a stick of sandalwood incense. I inhaled the familiar aroma and gazed at my mom, who sat cross-legged.
Then, I sat down with her, in front of a vintage wooden desk clock. I shut my eyes and breathed deeply.
My mom gently guided me, It’s like sleeping, but you’re awake. Do this for one minute.
The hands of the clock ticked ever so slowly.
As soon as the minute ended, my mom said, That’s good enough for today. We’ll start again tomorrow.
Okay! And off I skipped to my room.
Why you should do mindfulness meditation
As a small child, I couldn’t care less about mindfulness meditation.
But I liked pleasing my parents, so I did what I was told. Day after day, I practiced meditating with my mom, in front of that wooden clock.
Once I felt comfortable with one minute of meditation, I added a minute, then another… Later on, my studies would completely occupy me during the evenings and I stopped meditating.
It wasn’t until my early 20s, when I struggled with depression, did I finally see the benefits.
At the time, I had sailed straight into a codependent marriage after college. I could barely navigate life abroad and my job was unfulfilling. A dark cloud followed me everywhere.
That’s when I reverted to mindfulness meditation.
In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
“We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness meditation trains us to gracefully handle life’s inevitable ups and downs. Instead of stressing out—or worse, repressing our problems—we can learn how to live consciously.
We can learn how to embrace painful emotions and let in more love, peace and joy.
Here are 10 other benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- reduces stress and anxiety
- improves sleep
- aids weight loss
- relieves negative thinking
- helps prevent depression relapse
- sharpens focus
- helps manage chronic pain
- improves memory
- strengthens immune system
- reduces heart disease
Be like a tree
You don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate mindfulness meditation.
It’s accessible to everyone, anywhere, anytime.
When I began meditating (again), I stuck to a schedule of 20 minutes in the morning and evening. Little by little, my nerves calmed down—I loved this peaceful feeling so much that I’d meditate for an hour or more each day.
To my great surprise, I still lost my temper easily or felt deeply hurt by criticism. I’d beat myself up and spin out in feelings of worthlessness.
Then, I realized, If I can only be calm during meditation, what’s the use? I began to understand the limits of formal meditation. To experience lasting positive change, my life would have to become a meditation.
“The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn
Many people live in the past or future. Rarely, are they fully present. As a result, they may miss out on connecting with loved ones or enjoying nature’s beauty—things that give meaning to our lives.
What’s more, our body sends us important signals about our well-being.
If we’re lost in our mind, we could dismiss feelings of resentment towards a friend. Our emotions could easily control us, leading us to rash decisions.
Incessant thoughts and emotions can provoke much anxiety and misery.
Instead, imagine you’re a tree. A giant sequoia, if you’d like.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting, lying down or doing tasks. Throughout your day, as much as possible, pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings, without judgment.
If your mind wanders, don’t fret. It’s like the treetop—thousands of leaves rattling with the wind.
Acknowledge the fact. Then, concentrate on feeling your belly, the tree trunk, as it rises and falls with your breath, to ground yourself.
Gently bring your attention back to your belly, as often as need be.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing mystical or complex about mindfulness meditation. You don’t need to sit in the lotus position or burn incense.
You’re just being more present.
#1 Mistake about mindfulness meditation
“Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” ―Buddha
The yin yang symbol teaches us that change is inevitable.
The richness of the present moment escapes us—unless we adopt the “beginner’s mind” and see through the veil of our thoughts and beliefs.
That’s not to say that we should repress our mental chaos. Doing so would amplify it. It’s an easy mistake to make.
The ultimate goal of mindfulness meditation is to allow our thoughts to flow.
With time and practice, we naturally disidentify from the mind—and free ourselves from its endless chatter, fears and limits.
We can’t undo the past. And the future isn’t here yet. But sometimes, our thoughts still race all day and control us.
That’s when I start introspecting. Shadow work—or becoming aware of “unacceptable” parts of myself—has also helped me find inner peace.
If we don’t heal from past emotional wounds, they can act as a filter of our present. We unconsciously project our childhood wounds onto our partner, for example. Or we beat ourselves up, sabotaging our potential.
We have to accept ourselves the way we are.
And then, we can change for the better.
*Check out my 4-week coaching program to learn how to build self-compassion and accept yourself.
Embrace each moment
Our mind is a tool—a magnificent one that helps us avoid danger, solve problems and get things done.
But we are not our mind.
We are the consciousness that animates us.
Mindfulness meditation points us to the love, peace and joy that already reside within.
We must simply be aware of it…
Moment by moment.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness-based life coach who helps women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.
Further reading about mindfulness meditation: