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The Mindfulness Movement

How a Buddhist Practice Evolved into a Scientific Approach to Life

Matthew Nisbet is associate professor of communication at Northeastern University and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry scientific consultant. From 1997 and 1999, he was public relations director for CSI.

A few years ago, I took up the regular practice of meditation. Sitting in a quiet room, outside at a park, or on the train to work, I would assume an upright relaxed position and focus on my breath. The practice was not about making my mind empty or blank but simply letting my mind be at rest.

As thoughts or feelings inevitably arose, I would observe them without judging them. For example, if a thought about the need to finish a column for this magazine popped into my head, I would silently label the thought “worry,” before returning to focus on my breath. I learned, as psychologists describe, that the contents of my conscientiousness could be observed, and that the accompanying emotional reactions to them were seldom grounded in reality (Brown et al. 2007).

After several months of daily meditation, I noticed significant benefits. Meditation seemed to slow time down, enabling me to live and work in the present rather than worry about the future. I was quicker and more adept at recognizing how unrealistic expectations or unfounded worries were causing unnecessary stress. My sleep and mood improved. I felt happier, more content, and more at ease.

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