Mindful magazine puts it this way: “The goal [of mindfulness] is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, we know.” [My emphasis]
That last sentence gets five stars for candor. I’m a mindfulness dropout with no regrets. I couldn’t do it. I eventually found a time-tested approach that is probably giving lasting peace and happiness to more people more quickly than any approach in recorded history. It’s also giving them the effortless flow of thought that takes the burden out of work and the struggle out of success.
If you can do it, Mindfulness can help reduce stress, treat depression and anxiety, help to manage your thoughts and emotions, improve focus and more.
That said, happiness is usually low on the list of benefits when mindfulness is promoted, or it’s absent altogether. Why? Because it’s not built for giving you lasting peace and happiness anytime soon, if at all.
Decades of Decline in American Happiness
Mindfulness is not alone. The rapid growth of meditation and yoga – both healthy, beneficial practices – hasn’t’ been enough to turn the tide of an alarming trend. Neither has talk therapy, nor ample guidance from happiness research, nor the explosive growth of the wellness industry.
The trend is that, after peaking in the early 1990s, happiness in America has declined and is near its lowest point in 50 years.
Fortunately, the main problem is simple and easy to fix: We typically look for happiness in two directions. We need to look in one more.
We look “outward” for happiness: in the ideal spouse or partner, brilliant career, bundle of joy, Range Rover, beach house, etc. That’s all good. But as you’ve probably observed, anything we do, achieve, acquire or give birth to(!) can only bring temporary fulfilment and happiness. After that, it comes and goes at best.
We also look “inward” to our thoughts, emotions and memories, managing them by observing, analyzing, replacing or being mindful. We look inward when we meditate on images and visualizations.
But they’re more effective for making us feel better, not consistently happy.
Why? Most – not all - forms of mindfulness and meditation only look inward and outward to what we’re AWARE OF. That’s why they can take decades to bring lasting happiness, if all goes well. Most people never make it that far.
Most forms of talk therapy look inward in a different way. But with very rare exceptions, talk therapy is not built for lasting happiness at all.
Where to Find the True Source of Lasting Happiness
The key is to look “backward," too. "We need to “reverse our attention,” as I call it -- a simple practice with ancient roots that now takes many forms, including my adaptation that is ideal for Western professionals and a frenetic, device-driven culture: Reverse Mindfulness for Lasting Happiness and Stress-Free Success.
Reversing our attention means paying attention to WHAT IS AWARE within us, rather than what we’re AWARE OF, outwardly or inwardly.
In the West, we mistake awareness as something ordinary.
In contrast, for eons in the East – and in Mindfulness, meditation and yoga today - pure awareness has been rightly been recognized as our essence, or true nature: a well of peace, bliss, love, fulfilment, clarity of mind, no fear and no futilely seeking happiness through activity, accomplishments, relationships, etc.
A 3-Minute Sample of Reverse Mindfulness for Lasting Happiness and Effortless Success
To give you a taste of reversing attention via Reverse Mindfulness, here are three of many exercises from my 7-week coaching program
Step 1 (1 minute) Sit comfortably and lay your hands facing upward on your thighs. Close your eyes. Keeping in mind that we usually direct our attention outward, gently reverse your attention into your body, especially to the inside of your head.
Naturally, you won’t see anything. Just rest and relax in the silent stillness of what feels like empty space in your body. If a thought, emotion or memory comes, just let it go and take your attention back into that silent space. If it feels like that space – your awareness – extends beyond your body, that’s fine. Do this for roughly a minute, but don’t count. Do Step 1 before reading on.
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Step 2 (1 minute) With your eyes open, keep your attention back in your body. Give most of your attention to that silent space in your torso and especially your head. Look around the room or out the window.. You can pause to look at ordinary objects for a few seconds, but don’t look at anything that might draw emotion, like family photographs. If you notice thoughts or emotions, let them go and take your attention backward again. Keep in mind that you are aware. Do Step 2 before reading on.
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Step 3 (1 minute) Ordinarily, we look around at our surroundings and automatically know what we see. Let’s call that automatic awareness. Then there's "background awareness," to which we rarely pay attention. It's often called "the witness" or the observer. It is aware THAT we are looking around, while automatic awareness takes care of knowing what we are looking at. For one minute, look around again and pay attention to that witness or inner presence that knows you’re looking around. Don’t look for it in any particular place. It’s something you sense.
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If even one of these exercise helped you feel peaceful, especially grounded, and without mind-chatter or negativity, you just discovered something: pure awareness, which you just experienced, is perfect. It’s your essence, your inner perfection. You can access it anytime, anywhere in any situation.
Wait, there’s more…
There’s much more to Reverse Mindfulness, including:
· Many more exercises
· Learning about awareness (in ways that might bend your mind in the right direction)
· Several ways to master control of your thoughts and emotions
· Numerous “reminders” - phrases to keep your mind on track or bring it back when it goes astray.
Why is this called Reverse Mindfulness? Mindfulness takes your attention to the present moment, which can make it vibrant and alive. But silencing your mind with Reverse Mindfulness has the same effect: the present moment blossoms.
But Reverse Mindfulness differs from Mindfulness in critical ways: it’s effortless, rapid and “built” for happiness and inner peace.
The joy is in the other direction.
This isn’t a path. It’s a bullet train. It’s closely derived an ancient yogic tradition that has been liberating people from emotional suffering and “awakening them to their true nature.” It was almost lost to history until it was revived by a handful of sages in the first half of the 20th century, most notably Ramana Maharshi. The approach has since evolved substantially for our generation is now exploding in popularity.
Reverse Mindfulness doesn’t have to replace Mindfulnes s or meditation if you’re currently liking and benefitting from them. In fact, it’s a perfect complement.
My personal story is covered briefly at https://www.meaningoflife.com/coaching. Suffice it to say that for 30 years, I pursued the key to lasting happiness and effortless success by trying what seemed like every dish in the wellness buffet, from ancient to modern, and mainstream to holistic.
I made a ton of progress. For me, reversing my attention was the only way off the proverbial emotional rollercoaster that 98% of the population rides and considers normal. To me, it’s almost a form of insanity.
You deserve better. Lasting peace and happiness and effortless success are your birthrights. All you have to do is look in one more direction.