Living in the Present

Mindfulness mediation may be a useful strategy for stress

by Rob Zukowski

In the past I have talked about various forms of meditation, Transcendental Meditation, or TM, for example. There are many different kinds of meditation, each with its own rewards and purposes. TM, for example, allows your mind to settle inward, through quieter levels of thought, until you experience the most silent and peaceful level of your own awareness. People who practice TM say that while they are meditating they enjoy stillness, rest, stability, order, and an absence of mental boundaries.

One of my concerns with meditation was being able to quiet the mind. My mind may be many things; quiet is not one of them. This is why I am drifting towards Mindfulness Meditation, as it is less about quieting the mind or your thoughts, and more about being aware of your thoughts and changing your relationship with them.

Mindfulness Meditation is about living comfortably with your current awareness, not drifting away from it. The practice is intended for you to be one with your present thoughts, not hide from them, fear them, or let them overtake you. It is the act of being intensely aware of what you are sensing and feeling at the moment without interpretation. Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.

I can tell you from my own life experience that while I may physically live in the here and now, my mind often lives in the past or somewhere off in the future. This is not at all an uncommon practice. One of the many jobs of the mind is to fix things. It is a protective mechanism designed to solve problems. That test you failed. That job that you did not get. That relationship that faltered. Whatever the situation from the past that haunts us, the mind wants to know what went wrong and how to make it right. And yes, of course, it is important to learn from our mistakes. I am a firm believer that if there is any one good thing that can come from the errors of the past, it is figuring out how to keep from making the same mistakes again in the future. But, it is one thing to learn from our mistake and quite another thing to be haunted by the past.

“What if?” That is one of the frequent, albeit stress-inducing questions I ask myself. Yes, it is good to plan for the future. Yet, it is a very different thing to worry about what comes next or try to come up with solutions for problems that have not yet occurred. We never know what comes next and so trying to prepare for the unknown can be a debilitating cycle of concern and worry.

Mindfulness Meditation is about the here and now and living with it, calmly, peacefully and with acceptance; not with worry and judgment. Mindfulness Meditation is about living well right now. It is not easy to live in the present without reacting to it, without judging. With Mindfulness Meditation the point is to notice our own judgments, make a mental note of them, put them aside. I know—it is easier said than done. One of the goals of Mindfulness Meditation is not letting ourselves get lost in the thoughts that arise from the present, but to return to it, peacefully. When you think of this or that and your mind wanders to “back then” or “what if,” bring it back.

A study at UCLA tells us why Mindfulness Meditation could be a helpful practice for people living with HIV and AIDS. CD4 T cells, or CD4+ T lymphocytes, are called the “brains” of the immune system. They coordinate its activity when the body comes under attack from disease. HIV attacks the CD4 T cells and thus weakens the immune system. Stress is said to also attack CD4 T cells. The UCLA researchers report that “the practice of Mindfulness Meditation stopped the decline of CD4 T cells in HIV-positive patients suffering from stress, slowing the progression of the disease.”

“This study provides the first indication that Mindfulness Meditation stress-management training can have a direct impact on slowing HIV disease progression,” said lead study author David Creswell, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA.

There is much research and many articles to read on the subject of Mindfulness Meditation and I would urge you to look into it and perhaps learn to live comfortably in the present.

Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].