Describing Mindfulness – What is it?
Almost every day, someone asks me, “So…. What is Mindfulness?”.
To begin, Mindfulness is a contemplative practice. As I explain on my website, it started in Buddhism thousands of years ago, and has been taught in a secular way in the United States since 1979. Since being taught in the U.S., there’s also been a lot of research done on Mindfulness and how it supports people's wellness, both mentally and physically. Contemplative practices have long been associated with spiritual traditions and have moved beyond spiritual traditions as they become recognized by the medical and health communities for the way they help people grow awareness of self and surrounding. This awareness supports each person’s ability to balance all areas of life. There is a wonderful Tree of Contemplative Practices found on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s website, which can help describe the many areas of practice that fall in this category.
To help understanding, I’ve been thinking it might be beneficial to have a visual. This is my first attempt at creating a visual of a “Mindful moment” and below I describe the visual.
So with our understanding that Mindfulness is a contemplative practice, we learn that Mindfulness is more than a state of mind, it is a practice like yoga or running. It’s something that we dedicate time to in our busy life because we believe it will be beneficial to our health and happiness. Basically, I tell people Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment with curiosity and non-judgement. We learn to focus on each component of a moment, including, our breath, body, thought, emotion, sound/senses, and feeling tone. These are like the pieces in our Mindfulness pie. We can focus our awareness on any one piece of the pie or we can sit in open awareness of the whole pie at any one given moment. In addition, when we sit, whether focused on one area, or when we are holding open awareness of all areas, we sit in non judgement of whatever “comes up” and encouraging kindness toward our self. This kindness toward our self and our thoughts and reactions, allows us to acknowledge each moment without labeling it good or bad. By doing so, we are more likely to honestly look at that moment and purposely move forward in an appropriate way. In Mindfulness, we use meditation to practice our awareness of the present moment, so that we can take that awareness of each moment into every interaction and moment throughout our day. By taking this awareness into our day, we are better able to maintain our focus on any task and we are able to do so with less judgement toward ourselves and others. Non-judgement is important, because while it might be our goal to bring Mindfulness into every moment, we are human and we are sure to respond without thought at some time to a situation. In those times, we want to be able to laugh at our imperfect selves and try again.
If you’ve been following me, but were still unsure about what Mindfulness really was, I hope this has helped. Questions?