What is mindfulness?
As the definition points to, it is about purposely paying attention to the present moment, deliberately focusing the mind on the here and now, whatever the experience – pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. It takes a large dose of self-compassion (being nonjudgmental towards ourselves) and a level of discipline (patience and care) to bring the mind back from wandering into the past or into the future. We easily become preoccupied with our thoughts, if it be judgments, day dreaming, planning, assumptions, reminiscing or ruminating. The nature of the mind is to wander, just like the heart pumps blood, the brain secrets thoughts. When we accept that the brain will wonder we can make mindfulness a bit of a game to build more moment to moment awareness in our lives leading to more self-compassion, more insight and choice. Mindfulness is that moment when you notice or observe that you are caught in the stream of thought and choose to become reacquainted intimately with the moment of now, being fully wake and embodied with what your present experience is, without judgment.
The practice of mindfulness can be done formally; while sitting, walking, laying down or standing. Or bringing mindfulness to your everyday living, informally; while eating, washing dishes, having sex or brushing your teeth.
What mindfulness can offer you:
To better connect with others. Mindfulness helps to cultivate a quieter mind by having a different relationship with it and it offers freedom from distraction. Through mindfulness, we choose to be present with others, to develop more meaningful and intimate connections.
To see the world more objectively. Mindfulness allows you to simply observe your experiences, without judging, assuming or labelling. We learn that our emotions, feelings and thoughts are not necessarily our real reality.
To increase self-awareness. Mindfulness allows you to better understand the connection between what you think, what you feel, and how you behave. Through mindfulness, you learn to be less reactive and more responsive by creating space to make insightful choices.
To enjoy life. Our minds are often preoccupied with past events or future worries. With practice you can learn to be in the here and now, (the present) and can appreciate each moment as it unfolds second to second.
To relax: With practice, mindfulness works to counter the body’s response to stress and allows the body to relax. This allows you to cope more effectively with stressors, but it is not the intention of the practice. When the feeling of relaxation or contentment arrives enjoy it just the same and then let it go, not cling to it.
To address physical and mental health problems: Research has shown that mindfulness is effective in the treatment of various medical and psychological conditions related to stress.
What Mindfulness is not:
Mindfulness is not just trying to relax. When you become aware of what’s happening in your life, you can actually feel more distress initially. As you practice mindfulness and become more present in your life, you become less reactive to the feelings/thoughts/body sensations that arise within you. Mindfulness can have a relaxing effect in time, not because you have less mental or emotional storms but because it allows you to acknowledge and let go of the mental or emotional storms more readily.
Mindfulness is not about avoiding daily life. It is actually about choosing to make intimate contact with each moment of your life, no matter how boring or inconsequential. Simple things can become very special/joyful when you take an active presence in your own life. Your senses can become heightened when you use them in a mindful way.
Mindfulness is not emptying the mind of thoughts. The brain will always produce thoughts – its job is to secret thoughts that is what it does. Mindfulness allows you to develop a kinder and gracious relationship with your thoughts. It may feel as if you have fewer thoughts because you are working with them as opposed to struggling or fighting against them.
Mindfulness is not an escape from pain. We hardly do anything without the wish to feel better. You will feel better with mindfulness and acceptance but only by learning not to evade pain. Pain can be like a beach ball held under the water. When it is held down or when it is confined, it will push up against what is holding it down. When it is given space or not held down there is less resistance, less struggle. Mindfulness allows you to become aware of and guide the pain through self-care versus caging it or trying to make it stop.
Mindfulness is not a religion. It can be practiced as part of a religion or not. It has been proven to be a core healing element in overall wellness and it takes skill and practice.