What is it, and what can it do for you?
Mindfulness trainings are offered in more and more settings these days: health care, psychology, the corporate world, the military, in schools and prisons, and seemingly limitless others. The popularity of mindfulness has resulted in the word mindful increasingly applied in our day to day life; and we are asked to be 'mindful' in every context imaginable. Often someone asking you to be mindful is simply asking you to be aware or pay attention, and not necessarily referring to the Mindful Awareness cultivated and accessed through formal meditative practice. Sometimes the word is used to indicate general wellness or a kind of vague 'spirituality'. It's important to be able to recognize the difference between 'Mindfulness Practice' and all that entails; and the more mundane definitions and usages.
In the mainstream rush to adopt what has become a popular idea, as well as some of the confusion created with the various usages of the word; the understanding of what it involves to learn the practice has become somewhat muddled. And, while it is in its essence very simple, it is also a very specific practice requiring a level of intentionality and effort to develop through both formal and informal approaches. Making the effort to cultivate the techniques alongside the nuanced understandings that frame it, however, can ultimately bring a more natural balance, confidence and joy in how we relate to our experience. Authentic Mindfulness is quite powerful, but it is not a quick fix or bandaid solution. It just doesn't work that way!
So, what exactly is mindfulness in the context of mindfulness meditation?
Is being mindful just so easy as 'paying attention'? Well, the answer is yes and no...
the founder of the
Mindfulness as defined
by leading health experts:
- "... paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment"
- "... mindfulness is... bringing all of our awareness to the here and now, to the immediate sensations in our bodies and our breathing, for example, rather than letting much of it slip away in contemplation of the past and future or of other subjects that are not present."
- "Mindfulness is not some exotic ritual; in essence, it helps us train our minds to focus on what matters in the moment..."
The way the word 'Mindfulness' is used in our culture today finds it's roots in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, in 1979 for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. MBSR arose out of the contemplative and philosophical practices of Buddhism going back more than 2500 years, however the MBSR course was developed as a program to be offered in a secular context and does not require any religious or spritual beliefs. MBSR is approachable for people of any religious, spiritual or non-religious background.
Mindfulness practice incorporates focused awareness and contemplation of the breath, body, feelings and the non-conceptual thinking 'process' (as opposed to analysis or evaluation of thoughts) and involves the careful cultivation of a certain kind of attention:
Mindfulness meditation is a grounded, 'in the body' presencing which enables a greater capacity for self awareness and equanimity; it is not an esoteric 'out of body' experience.
Mindfulness is a practice, rather than a philosophy; it is not enough to simply read about and cognitively understand mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the process of engagement and cultivation of experiencing *right now* and not merely a 'technique'.
Mindfulness is ultimately a way of being that reconnects us to our own innate wisdom and wholeness.
So, while Mindfulness is simply 'paying attention', it's a very particular way of paying attention requiring systematic and intentional cultivation.