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The Magnitude of Mindfulness

October 10, 2018

By Ron Vereen, MD

How often have you been sitting in meditation, and the thought arises, “what I am doing this for, anyway?”  This can be one response to the experience of the mind wandering and the body feeling uncomfortable, especially for beginners to the practice, but certainly not limited to the novice.  It happens at times to all of us.  These types of thoughts arise from a place of skeptical doubt, and are some of the most pernicious obstacles to the practice of meditation   It is therefore important to have a strategy from which to approach such an occurrence, or we run the risk of abandoning the practice altogether.

Each of the obstacles, whether they be doubt, sensual desire, aversion, sleepiness, agitation and restlessness, have as an antidote the mental factor of mindfulness.  This quality of mind must have some “power to its punch,” so to speak, to be so universally applicable to so many aspects of experience, especially those that we might characterize as unskillful or unhealthy.  The meditation master and prolific writer, Thich Nhat Hanh, titled one of his most popular books, “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” so perhaps there is something to this aspect of mind.  If we look more closely into the qualities of mind that co-arise with mindfulness, then we can gain some insight into the magnitude of its miraculous power.

Mindfulness is considered a wholesome or skillful mental factor, and it is helpful to know that an unskillful and a skillful mental factor cannot co-exist in the same mind moment.  Thus each moment we are mindful, we are in a healthy mental state of being, preventing the unskillful from intruding.  Some unskillful state will certainly arise again; however, as soon as we become mindful of that state, we are once again in a more healthy state of mind.  With practice, we progressively cultivate a disposition toward being more mindful, and by extension, more healthy and skillful.  The magnitude of wholesome mental factors that co-arise with mindfulness may help to explain its effectiveness.

Within each moment of mindfulness there co-exist other healthy mental factors that enhance its transformative power.  Equanimity, or balance of mind, is an important mental factor co-arising with mindfulness, enabling us to “be with what is,” and to not be thrown off center.  Embedded in equanimity are also qualities of generosity and kindness, bringing the heart into the matter.  Moreover, faith or conviction co-arises as well, countering the doubt that can be such a hindrance to practice.  And it doesn’t stop here, with the list going on to include self respect, respect for others, tranquility, lightness, malleability, wieldiness, proficiency, and rectitude.

So, the next time your thoughts tend to have more of a negative tone, consider it an opportunity to simply hold them in awareness.  Mindfulness helps us to step back and to no longer be embedded in the negative experience.  Then remember the magnitude of mindfulness.  In just that moment, you are unleashing powerful positive forces that can bring about miraculous results!


Ron Vereen serves as an instructor for the Duke Integrative Medicine Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. If you would like to learn more about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, visit the Duke Integrative Medicine website. Register before December 21, 2018 to receive a 10% early registration discount.

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