Mindfulness is simply a way of approaching life that anyone can engage in regardless or culture, religious or spiritual beliefs. It’s the practice of conscious awareness and learning how to create natural pauses in your day in which you can slow down and pay attention to what is happening in the moment.
Mindfulness is a hot topic and there is a good reason that it is getting so much attention. Mindfulness is increasingly recognized as an effective way to reduce stress, develop self-awareness, and effectively handle negative thoughts and feelings. It involves consciously bringing awareness to our here-and-now experiences with openness, interest and curiosity. It is about waking up, connecting with ourselves, and appreciating the fullness of each moment of life.
In our very busy days it’s easy to become overwhelmed with thoughts, feelings and commitments. We often find ourselves judging how things should be and as a result we are self-critical and somewhat dissatisfied with our day-to-day life. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond, rather than to react, to what is happening around us. That leads to some great perks. Research shows that a consistent mindfulness practice has several physical, psychological, and social benefits including reduced stress, increased concentration and focus, and enhanced relationships. Mindfulness also helps us learn to go with the flow more easily – even learning to love the unexpected chaos that sometimes exists.
Where are you right now?
There’s a good chance you are not here – fully present in this moment. Chances are some part of you is hanging out in the future, thinking about everything you have to do. You are busy planning and organizing and managing your to-do list. Or perhaps you are hanging out in the past, thinking about what has already happened – or didn’t happen. You are regretting or reliving events and choices from before.
One of the reasons we feel that there is not enough time is because we spend so little of it in the present moment. We actually miss what is going on here and now because our heads are somewhere else. We don’t live mindfully.
So what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an internationally recognized writer, researcher and teacher on the subject describes mindfulness as “a Way of being, a Way of living, a Way of listening, a Way of walking along the path of life and being in harmony with things as they are.” Mindfulness, he says, “means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
A simple definition is that mindfulness is conscious awareness.
Mindfulness is about noticing and accepting what is happening in the moment. The only life you can experience is the one that is happening right now. But it’s important to remember that mindfulness is not about turning everything into a pleasant, uber-calm experience. Instead it is about noticing what is happening right now, whatever that is. Perhaps you notice that you are content, or excited, or grateful. Perhaps you notice the chatter in your head. Or perhaps you notice that you are anxious, frustrated or angry. Just notice it. You don’t have to make it bad or wrong that you are feeling that way.
Being present also doesn’t mean we always make good choices. Quite the opposite. Being present simply means that we are aware of our choices in the moment. There is a conscious opportunity to choose. What we do with that opportunity is up to us. Sometimes we choose well and other times not so much.
If that’s the case, what’s the point of a mindfulness practice?
When we are not present, then there is no opportunity to choose. We act on autopilot and engage in our default behaviours. We react rather being intentional in our responses. We continue to do what we have always done. And then in a moment of wakefulness we realize what we did and feel annoyed that we didn’t make a different choice.
Mindfulness helps us slow down so we can choose consciously in any moment. The more you practice being in the space of the moment, the more you will recognize the opportunities to choose differently than you have in the past. Mindfulness is ultimately about bringing ourselves back – to the present moment, to our bodies, to our senses, to a slower pace and ultimately to our inner wisdom.