What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the moment to moment awareness & acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, emotions & behaviours, experiencing life in the here & now.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is quite the modern day buzz word but what exactly is mindfulness?
Well, mindfulness is the moment to moment awareness & acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, emotions & behaviours. It is an ability to be present, experiencing life as it happens in the here & now, the only moment that really matters. After all it’s only in the present moment that we can learn, grow, create & take action.
It’s about recognising that we are entrenched in worrying about the past or thoughts of the future – did you know we spend an estimated 50% of our time ruminating about the past, which has gone, or fretting about the future, which generally never quite pans out as we expected. That’s quite a lot of wasted time when we could be actively engaged in the present moment instead! Which brings to mind that old expression: the past is history, the future a mystery, the present is a gift which is why it’s called the present.
Mindfulness is also about acknowledging when we are distracted by thoughts & being able to see them as just thoughts, not necessarily fact. Being able to step back, taking on the perspective of an observer to our thoughts rather than getting swept away & down the rabbit hole with the storyline of them. This viewpoint can be extremely liberating. If you like you can try to imagine thoughts are clouds in a summer’s sky & you are just watching them float by.
Jon Kabbat Zinn, who introduced mindfulness to the West in the ‘80’s & is widely regarded as the father of mindfulness, defines it as: paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment & non-judgmentally.
Not judging whatever we discover when we come to the present moment, accepting, being kind to ourselves, curious, playful even, these are all attitudes which accompany mindfulness & I will be exploring these next time.
So, in essence mindfulness is quite simple but it’s not very easy to do. If it was we’d all be doing it instead of wasting so much time brooding on the past & future, caught up in our thoughts, instead of actively engaged in the present.
So how can we practice mindfulness? Well, meditation is one way in which we can be more mindful but it is not essentially mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of being engaged in the present moment without judgment & criticism. Mindfulness is an awareness of thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviours, an awareness of ‘something’ & can be practiced anywhere.
Whilst meditation is a way to practice mindfulness, it is the formal practice of mindfulness. It supports & enriches mindfulness just as being mindful in your meditation practice supports your meditation, they are interlinked & support one another but are subtly different.
Meditation is sometimes referred to as an awareness of nothing – although this simplifies meditation because often in meditation, particularly when we are new to the practice we use our breath or our body to anchor us in the moment & thus we are aware of these anchors. But essentially, when your practice deepens you get a sense of just being, with no distractions in your meditation space. Although of course as soon as you notice this, you are distracted & boom, the ‘nothing’ has evaporated!
Can you see how it’s not quite a simple as it first appears?
Meditation is not about controlling our thoughts we can’t stop our mind from doing what it does: thinking thoughts. But we can stop our thoughts from controlling us.
This subtle distinction enables us to avoid the frustration of the noisy & busy mind we notice when we settle down to meditate. You’re not doing anything wrong. When we get still & silent, we notice how busy & noisy our mind is, what many refer to as the monkey mind. Mindfulness is simply noticing this & guiding your attention gently back to your anchor. Every time you get distracted, is another moment of mindfulness, indeed if you can bring some gratitude to that momentary reminder this can also help.
So mindfulness is about noticing our mind has wandered (again & again & often again again!). And choosing instead of getting swept away with whatever it is we are thinking about, to acknowledge & observe that train of thought, that feeling, emotion or behaviour & gently anchoring ourselves back in the present moment using our breath or body, without judging what ever distracted us in the first place. Just accepting it. Sometimes being curious. It’s a little like guiding a puppy that has strayed from the path gently back onto it.
And meditation is one way to practice mindfulness. But we can also practice mindfulness by trying informal practices. Bringing mindfulness into our everyday & I will also be exploring these practices later in this series.
So the differentiation between mindfulness & meditation is subtle. As is the impact of these practices – there are no monumental lightening bolts from the heavens but they bring about profound shifts. Establishing a mindfulness or meditation practice isn’t easy, it is after all why they are called practices, they take practice, but it is definitely worthwhile. These practices have changed my life which is why I am so passionate about sharing about them & trained to teach mindfulness.