What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness aims to solve the problem of going through life in a sleepwalking, oblivious, unaware manner. The dangerous thing about awareness is that we don’t notice we’re unaware until we become aware! Therefore, we must always assume that we can be more aware then we currently are.
Broadly speaking, mindfulness refers to the quality of being conscious or aware of the self/world. Influential mindfulness instructor Jon Kabat-Zinn famously defines mindfulness as:
paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
What does it mean to pay attention?
Paying attention means carefully listening, not just to others, but to ourselves. Careful listening implies totally accepting and not interrupting what our body, mind, and environment is trying to tell us. When we ignore our feelings, thoughts, and sensations, we fail to be mindful. We end up projecting our thoughts and feelings onto others, because we fail to understand what they could mean. We also fail to be mindful if we ignore what’s going on in the world. Being mindful means being really in tune with who we are and what’s going on in the world through careful listening.
Mindfulness means listening to our thoughts, not eliminating thoughts. Sometimes our thoughts can cloud our experience of the world. Thinking can either be a great tool to understand ourselves and world, or something that clouds our vision.
We must not let thoughts get in the way of our experience of the world. To listen to our feelings means accepting and understanding our feelings, not trying to get rid of them. Trying to get rid of feelings is an act of ignoring. We should listen to others and the world with the same careful listening that we listen to ourselves.
What does it mean to be present?
To be in the present means to have attention directed to NOW, as opposed to the past or future. It does not mean ignoring the past or future, however. The past and future shape our present moment. Being aware of the past and future can make us more mindful in the present. But the point is, the past and future are subservient to the present, because the present is where everything happens. Being present means whole-heartedly doing whatever it is we’re doing. We could be eating, typing, watching, washing, creating, playing, or anything. In all of those activities, we could either be fully engaged and focused on the task at hand, or daydreaming and getting lost in fantasy. Being present means not letting our past hold us back, and not living solely for the future. Being present means carefully listening and engaging in what is going on NOW.
What does it mean to be nonjudgemental?
To be nonjudgemental means to be open and accepting, especially when it comes to things outside our own perspective. It means not letting our personal opinions and perspectives close us off to ourselves, others, and the world. When we are closed, we become excessively fearful and critical. Being nonjudgemental does not mean refusing to make judgements. We should make judgements, but not until we open ourselves up to things and experience them fully.
What does it mean to be on purpose?
To be on purpose means to be intentional. It means to have a reason for doing what we do. It means having an aim, or even a goal (though our focus should be on the process, not the final outcome). When we are on purpose, we approach life with a sense of awareness, liveliness, and discernment.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Here are several benefits of mindfulness in bulleted form.
Mindfulness increases well-being:
- Improves life satisfaction.
- Improves enjoyment.
- Improves capacity to deal with adversity.
- Improves ability to form deep connections with others.
- Helps us be more present, engaged, and focused.
- Helps us let go of regrets and worries.
- Helps us let go of irrational thoughts.
Mindfulness improves mental health:
- Helps treat depression.
- Helps treat substance abuse.
- Help treat eating disorders.
- Helps treat anxiety and compulsive disorders.
- Helps resolve relationship conflicts.
- Helps people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.
Mindfulness improves physical health:
- Relieves Stress.
- Treats heart disease.
- Helps lower blood pressure.
- Helps reduce chronic pain.
- Helps improve sleep.
- Helps alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties
How to practice mindfulness?
Okay so you’re convinced mindfulness is great. Now how do you start practicing?
Meditation is the practice of mindfulness. There are a variety of meditations, but sitting meditation is the most basic one.
Here is a Jon Kabat-Zinn guided sitting meditation to get you started.
Sitting meditation is just one way for us to practice mindfulness. We shouldn’t do it excessively or use it as a way to escape from our responsibilities. Whatever amount of meditation seems right to you is the right amount, whether it’s one minute, ten minutes, or two hours. Ultimately, we should strive to be mindful in everyday life. The real meditation begins when we sit up from the cushion and engage with the world.
Check out a variety of exclusive and inspiring Jon Kabat-Zinn lectures here.
—Written by Matt Rosenblum June 21, 2016