What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation originally developed by Buddhism. Mindfulness involves paying attention each moment to things as they are, with an open hearted and non-judgemental attitude. This is a process of observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they come and go, with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.
Mindfulness increases our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others. It is a powerful lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity and with a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us get ourselves off of the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses.
Why is it useful?
Mindfulness can be applied to experiencing every day activities such as eating, walking, washing the dishes, and having a shower. It’s practice can help us to be less caught up in stress, worry, low mood, by helping us to develop a greater capacity to engage in our lives by being more fully present.
We communicate better, work more efficiently, and can genuinely relax. This is due in part to the potential of Mindfulness to allow us to observe experiences free of distortion, aversion or fantasy, and the often intense judgemental attitudes we attach to them which increase our anxiety about them.
Being truly in the present rather than operating on ‘auto-pilot’ means we have greater control over the outcome of situations of all kinds – especially those involving stress. Further, we may use Mindfulness skills to overcome cravings, deep moods or worry, and through them we tap into stillness and self-compassion.
It can also be applied to potentially improve the management of chronic pain, serious depression and acute anxiety.
Mindfulness is a skill that can be developed with practice over time. Making time to practice mindfulness meditation regularly can help us to become more mindful in our day-to-day activities, and can help us to step out of habitual patterns of stress.
The basic practice of mindfulness meditation involves intentionally becoming aware of what is happening at the moment, which can be divided in four basic areas:
1) Mindfulness of the Body – observation of one’s physical form, its movement and processes (such as breathing, walking, stretching);
2) Mindfulness of Feelings – observation of both mental and physical sensations or impressions, and whether they are, for example, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral;
3) Mindfulness of Mind – observing and recognizing states of mind, moods or emotions;
4) Mindfulness of Mind Objects – observing thoughts and categories of thought.
It is natural that our minds will not stay aware for the whole time. The mind will inevitably wander off and soon we will be thinking, or planning, or worrying. The practice of mindfulness is to be aware when our attention has wandered, and then without judgement, gently but firmly redirecting our attention back to the present moment.
How to start a Meditation practice?
It is helpful to learn how to practice mindfulness with the guidance of an experienced instructor or you can also listen to guided meditations (my favorite teacher is Tara Brach – please check her website as well as she has a lot of guided meditations and talks).
How often should I meditate?
Taking time to meditate may sometimes sound ‘impossible’ according to our current busy and stressful routine, but once you start it you will feel lighter, full of energy and will realise that you have more free time than you thought!
If you’re just beginning a meditation practice, you might want to experiment with the length of time that you meditate. You might choose to meditate for just five minutes once or twice a day, and increase the time by five minutes a day until you reach a length of time that you can commit to on a daily basis.