Mindfulness, Meditation & The Scientific Method
My favorite description of the scientific method doubles as a good shorthand definition of mindfulness meditation, and it comes from comic science fiction.
My favorite description of the scientific method doubles as a good shorthand definition of mindfulness and meditation, and it comes from comic science fiction. “See first, think later, then test," writes Douglas Adams in the fourth book of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy cycle. “But, always see first. Otherwise, you will only see what you were expecting.”
Like scientists, meditators “see first” when they observe what’s happening within and around them with an open and curious mind. A prerequisite for this type of open, receptive observation is the capacity to quiet and focus one's mind, two of six crucial social, emotional and academic life skills that mindfulness develops. "Think later, then test" are the next steps in the scientific method, and they too apply to meditation. Thinking and testing require scientists and meditators alike to use the resources they have to understand better what they’ve seen. For meditators, those resources include life skills like focusing, quieting, seeing, reframing, caring, and connecting, as well as an understanding of universal themes that are threaded through a wise, compassionate worldview. When these steps—"See first, think later, then test"—come together, both meditators and scientists have an opportunity to glean insights into life’s experiences that are tough to find elsewhere. Strong emotions often bubble up during meditation, and when they do even people who have clocked hundreds of hours sitting on a meditation cushion can still find it challenging to “See first, think later,” even when these long-term meditators understand that, otherwise, they will only see what they were expecting.
First, we have some fun.
Next, we play a mindful game sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, observing our minds and bodies from the perspective of a friendly and curious observer, with an open mind as free of preconceived notions as possible.
Then, we talk about our experiences. While sharing, we hold back from projecting our experiences onto another person's story, offering advice, and drawing conclusions. Instead, we ask one another questions intended to help the other person look at their meditation experiences from various angles and draw their conclusions. Sharing is also an opportunity to encourage kids and adults to seek outside help, when appropriate.
Last, we consider ways to use what we learned in our daily lives, informed by an understanding of universal themes and the life skills we’re developing.
This framework - Play, Practice, Share, and Apply - provides a safe, contained space for kids and adults to speak openly with one another after they practice together. It's also an opportunity for them to help each other contextualize their meditation experiences and, when appropriate, to reframe them. Through these conversations, children and families develop relational mindfulness by tuning into their own and other people's inner and outer worlds. As they sit in a circle and tell their stories, kids and adults watch, listen, sense, interpret, and respond to what other people say and do in a way that they better see and understand them, and that they feel better seen and understood.