The 2 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness That You Can Reap

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Mind Illuminated" by Culadasa, Matthew Immergut, and Jeremy Graves. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Would you like to be more aware of your surroundings? What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an advanced type of concentration. Once you achieve mindfulness, your concentration and background awareness will be at their strongest.

Keep reading to learn how practicing mindfulness can benefit you, according to The Mind Illuminated.

The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness

The authors say that there are two benefits of practicing mindfulness that you’ll be able to experience:

  1. Your concentration on your focal point is strong, meaning you observe or experience it deeply. For instance, strong concentration on your breath might involve noticing subtle sensations, like the feeling of air passing over the roof of your mouth.
  2. While you maintain your strong concentration, what we’ll call your background awareness is also strong. This is your awareness of sensations and mental experiences beyond your focal point, such as memories, emotions, smells, and sounds.

By saying that mindfulness involves both strong concentration and strong background awareness, the authors advocate for balancing these two types of attention.

According to the authors, when you’re in a state of mindfulness, you experience the benefits of strong concentration and the benefits of strong background awareness. Think of this as experiencing both depth and breadth. Strong concentration on one focal point provides depth—detailed, thorough observation of a single thing. By contrast, strong background awareness provides breadth—a full picture of your present experience. 

People With Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies May Benefit From This Technique

Psychiatrist Scott Alexander says the authors’ conception of mindfulness may particularly appeal to meditators with obsessive-compulsive (OC) tendencies. To understand why, let’s consider more typical approaches to meditation. Many meditation guides give sequential instructions such as “pay attention to your breath, then notice what emotions arise.” According to Alexander, this lack of clarity around when to shift from your focal point to your background (in this case, your emotions) can frustrate people with OC tendencies. 

By contrast, the authors of TMI emphasize that focal point awareness and background awareness during mindfulness are simultaneous rather than sequential. In other words, you don’t have to worry about when to shift your attention from one to the other.

How can mindfulness improve your life beyond the meditation cushion? The authors say that, once you’ve cultivated strong mindfulness, you react to everyday situations intentionally rather than automatically. Let’s use an example to illustrate this difference.

Shortform Example: Reacting to Your Child’s Story

Imagine your daughter comes home from school and tells you a story about a classmate who stumbled while reading a book aloud. She says of her classmate, “He must not be very smart.” You snap at your daughter without thinking, angrily telling her that it’s wrong to assume her classmate isn’t smart. This is an automatic reaction, not an intentional, mindful one.

Next, let’s replay this scene—but this time, imagine you’ve cultivated strong concentration through meditation. As a result, you’re strongly attuned to both the focal point (your child’s storytelling) and any background experiences (emotions, memories, sensations, and so on).

As your child tells the story of her classmate, you notice a memory arising: you, age seven, tears welling in your eyes as you struggle to read aloud a passage in school. This memory awakens feelings of empathy for your daughter’s classmate as well as frustration about your daughter’s assumptions about him. At the same time, you notice how your daughter is telling you this story with incredible detail and dramatic gesturing. You notice the presence of another emotion: love for your child for being such an animated storyteller. 

When your daughter is done with her story, you tell her a story in return: about you, age seven, struggling to read in school. This is an intentional reaction, one informed by your earlier attention to both your focal point and the background. As a result, your daughter benefits from your mindfulness: She now has a greater understanding of both you and her classmate.

(Shortform note: In Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana shares the authors’ view that the benefits of mindfulness meditation overflow into your day-to-day experiences. He adds that you should think of mindfulness meditation as practice for being mindful in everyday life.)

The 2 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness That You Can Reap

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Mind Illuminated summary:

  • That the true goal of meditation is to reach enlightenment
  • The 10 sequential stages you can follow to improve your meditation practice
  • Cultural, historical, and scientific insights about meditation

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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