I’ve hopefully illustrated, to an extent, what mindfulness is through some of my previous posts, but it felt time to write more specifically about this concept.
The most commonly used definition of mindfulness in the secular context is that of Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
So, let’s unpack and expand on that a little…
Mindfulness is about developing full conscious awareness, whether that be in meditation or when going about the activities of daily life. It is about living in the present moment rather than being lost in memories or ruminations on the past or worries about the future. This can mean opening your awareness to the external world through the senses; taking in what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. It also involves paying attention to internal experience; to whatever thoughts, feelings or body sensations may be arising in the moment.
With continued practice, mindfulness enables you to become more familiar with the patterns that distract you and take you away from the present. You can become an observer of your thoughts rather than being lost within them. You start honing the ability to be aware of thoughts without struggling with them; letting go of trying to push them away, suppress them or ignore them in the ways you might have done previously and instead allowing them to come and go in their own time. You see that thoughts and emotions are temporary; they shift and change like weather patterns.
Recent research has shown that self-compassion is an important element of mindfulness and non-judgement is key. There is no need for any criticism when the mind wanders, instead a gentle curiosity is encouraged. If you can spot a negative thought pattern before it takes hold and spirals downwards into stress or unhappiness, then you have a greater sense of mastery over your life. You can respond with wiser choices rather than reacting in the habitual ways which have been unhelpful to you in the past. In the long-term mindfulness practice supports greater wellbeing and resilience.