What is Mindfulness?

Through mindful awareness, your world can transform, beginning from within. Science proves that mindfulness makes us happier, healthier, and live with more focus, patience and compassion for yourself and others. 

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Mindfulness is a shift in the way you “pay attention to the present moment, on purpose, non-judgmentally.” which is Jon Kabat Zinn’s working definition, founder of the 35-year old MBSR program.

With recent scientific research backing the benefits of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and meditation, we can’t help but turn toward this way of being in better relation to ourselves and others. Research has proven that our mind wanders through our daily lives almost 50% of the time according to a Harvard study. Replaying events from the past or projecting into the future; we are almost always in “doing” mode. Mindfulness is a way of waking up from auto-pilot and taking control of the steering wheel so to speak, taking back our innate, human ability to fully “be” in the moments of our lives, that can only be experienced directly in the present moment. Grounded in a 2,500 year old Buddhist tradition, it introduces this ancient, sacred practice into secular settings.

What are the benefits?
Concrete, scientific evidence supports profound health benefits for people of all ages, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increases creativity, mental focus, emotional resilience, immune response, and recovery from addiction. It also decreases feelings of anxiety and mild depression.
Attention: Just like physical fitness, mindfulness strengthens our “mental muscle” to bring increased focus.
Compassion: Being aware of our own emotions makes us empathize about what others are experiencing.
Regulates Emotions: Just sitting with and objectively observing physical sensations and emotions in the body changes how we relate to them.
Resilience: Being an unbiased observer of our emotions, thoughts and feelings reduces the amount of mind chatter and makes room to respond to stressors rather than knee jerk reacting.

Through awareness, your world can transform, beginning from within. There’s understanding mindfulness intellectually and conceptually, then there’s knowing it directly from your own experience. You’ve probably already experienced these moments. When you’re totally engaged in an activity, not thinking about things that you need to do later, everything is focused in the moment and you step out of “clock time” so to speak. (More on that on one of my favorite articles here.)  For me, its watching a spectacular sunrise or singing in my car, or during a particularly challenging workout. Or, maybe it’s happened to you spontaneously when you were out in nature in the stillness of a forest, or simply playing with your children. Most of the time, it happens when you’re completely immersed in an activity that you innately enjoy and surprise yourself when you finally look up at the clock and realize time has just flown by.

When we find ourselves in these fleeting moments, a profound connection to the greater whole and fullness of life emerges. Everything feels alive and we find ourselves with a great sense of peace and well being. Scientific research is now confirming what the wisdom traditions have taught for thousands of years: The key to fulfillment and true health and well-being does not lie in the external; having a big house, a nice car, more money and power. True happiness lies within, in the state of our minds and the quality of how we pay attention.

There are three main components. Mindfulness is:

1. practiced on purpose: It involves conscious and deliberate paying attention to what is needed in any particular moment. It’s the opposite of being on “auto pilot” which tends to be the normal state of our minds for most of the day, which is so seductive with all the bells of our smart phones, email and Facebook notifications, the general busyness of life, pulling us away from what’s most important.

2. in the present moment: The mind wanders, it’s what the mind does. It gets caught up in replaying the past, rehearsing the future, that we’re rarely fully present for our lives. With how distracted we are by technology, work demands, relationships, errands and to never-ending do lists, we find ourselves going days, weeks, even years with our heads down, going through the motions, that we’re never really present for our lives. Which, if you really think about it, all we have is THIS moment.  We can’t live 5 minutes from now, or two weeks ago.  During our present moment experiences, we’re either rehearsing or replaying — rehearsing in our heads events in the future, or reminiscing or replaying events from the past.

3. non-judgmentally: The purpose is not to control or suppress thoughts, but aims to withhold judging and not being so hard on ourselves, labeling, or making up stories about our thoughts and emotions and internalizing them. The mind is very noisy and chatters judgments and opinions relentlessly, without us realizing it. “I like this, I don’t like that; this is good; that is bad,” constantly pushing and pulling at us. It tends to be a loud and overbearing commentator, creating a constant inner dialog that usually is pretty negative.  Creating stories and negative self talk about ourselves and others that isn’t necessarily true most of the time.  With the light of Mindfulness, we become the objective watcher or observer in our own minds. Realizing that our thoughts are “just thoughts,” events in the field of our awareness, and we don’t have to take them so personally.

Even though practicing Mindfulness and meditation is relatively simple in context, it’s surprisingly difficult to maintain, takes a good deal of commitment in the beginning and requires time to unfold. It’s not a quick fix or magic pill. Paradoxically, this practice is uniquely special in that it’s not just another thing to add to your “To Do” list, but something that is infused into daily life.

It’s not a technique, but a way of being in better relation to yourself and others….which, really, isn’t life ultimately about our health and our relationships?  It’s about self-care and creating more margin between stressors and how you respond more skillfully, rather than knee-jerk reacting to stress in our lives.  There will always be stress, it’s unavoidable. Mindfulness opens our eyes that life itself is the true teacher.

“Mindfulness is the awareness of paying attention to the present moment, as if our life depends on it….because it does.” Jon Kabat Zinn


3 thoughts on “What is Mindfulness?

  1. This article is wonderful! As a social worker and as a person who has found basic mindfulness to be incredibly helpful personally in decreasing anxiety, I am definitely interested in attending a workshop if anyone has further information about it.

    Thanks much!

    Kelly

    Like

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