Geneviève Hamelet: what is… and is not mindfulness meditation

- through Francois Leclercq

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Many virtues are attributed to mindfulness meditation. But what hides this unbridled sponsorship? Is this reality? Response from Geneviève Hamelet, president of the Association for the Development of Mindfulness in France, which sweeps away many received ideas.

Nowadays, Mindfulness meditation is everywhere, on our smartphones, in bookstores, hospitals, open spaces... Is it a contemporary practice?

No way ! It was the Buddha who spoke about it for the first time. For him, mindfulness training was, in itself, a complete path to enlightenment. One of his first teachings, which is transcribed in the great sutra (1) "Satipatthana" (in Pali) on the four foundations of establishing Mindfulness, also sometimes called "The four placements of attention" , refers to it. This is why this practice is present in all Buddhist schools, the Theravada, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. It simply takes different forms and names in different cultures and traditions.

What is Mindfulness?

Before explaining what this method is, let's first come back to this term. The original word, Pali, was successively translated into English as “mindfulness”, then into French as “Plein conscience”, and now, more and more often, in France, as “presence attentive” or “presence consciente”. .

In the West, it was Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine, teacher and doctor in molecular biology, who, after having discovered and practiced mindfulness with several masters, including the Korean Seung Sahn, in the 70s, developed the first, in 1979, the MBSR, a method of stress reduction based on Mindfulness. For him, Mindfulness operates from the moment when we put our attention without judgment on the experience that unfolds, in the present moment. The support of attention can be an internal or external object: our breath, a part of our body, a statue or even a pebble. This approach, focused on the moment, promotes the construction of a new attitude towards thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and prevents those who practice it from developing negative ruminations that generate states of mind made of sadness. , anxiety, fear and malaise.

To achieve Mindfulness, must we necessarily sit cross-legged and not move?

This posture is not compulsory. In retreats devoted to the practice of mindfulness meditation, in Theravada in particular, periods of sitting and walking meditation are alternated. You can also meditate while lying down. The important thing, whatever the position, is not to be hunched over. When the back straightens, the head and the spine align spontaneously, the rib cage opens and the breath is more fluid. This posture promotes the experience of attentive presence, helps to understand that meditating is not emptying the mind, and to see that although the thoughts are still there, they are less obsessive. The attentive presence also teaches to identify their nature, their quality, their process and to question the moment of time where we are located. “Do they project me into the future or lock me into the past? Are they reveries, self-critical thoughts? ". By observing them without following their content, little by little, we stop identifying with them. They don't go away, they just lose their impact on us.

How to live Mindfulness on a daily basis?

It takes time, rigor and patience to make mindfulness our ally, a way of being. The adventure of attentive presence lasts a lifetime, because it helps to understand who we are, and helps to become less and less a prisoner of our conditioning and our emotions. Which does not mean that everything is going to be fine 24 hours a day, but when it is not, it does not matter, it is enough to simply recognize it, we are humans, therefore perfectible.

“Mindfulness is a non-effort that requires effort. »

Traditionally, it is said that it is best to practice in the morning, as the mind is clearer and fresher. When one begins to practice, at the beginning, one needs to isolate oneself, to remain still, and sometimes to combine practice and teachings on the four foundations of mindfulness, for example. Then, after a while, it is advisable to try to practice during the day, in the metro, the bus, the street, the canteen...

Paying attention simply to your body or your breath can be done in many places and situations. It helps to take a step back, to be more present to what we experience and considerably changes the way we think about ourselves and look at the world.

Let's imagine that I am an atheist, extroverted and hyperactive… Can I meditate?

Yes ! One of the great beauties of Buddhism is to have put in place tools that can be used by anyone. Anything that can be called “Buddhist psychology,” which helps understand how our minds, bodies, and experiences of reality work, is open to everyone. This is the case of meditation, which helps everyone to get in touch with their tendencies, to observe them, to welcome them, and to understand where withdrawal, anxiety, egocentrism, etc., come from.

Do you have to go bad to start meditating?

It's a good question ! In general, people come to meditation because they have discomfort, questions, a problem, a loss, a form of anxiety… But it is better to be in a more or less stable state to begin with. Because this work of learning, of rehearsals, of formal practice, of commitment, risks being more difficult if you are not well. That said, early on, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced mindfulness in the hospital setting with patients, and it paid off.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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