What is Mindfulness?
Definition of Mindfulness
The best definition of mindfulness that I have encountered describes it thus: “Awareness of present experience with acceptance and compassion.”
Description of Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is essentially a practice, which has been in use for hundreds of years, in various religious and spiritual traditions. Modern research has shown that it can provide great benefits for our general health and wellbeing too. Jon Kabat-Zinn has popularized Mindfulness in the west by through his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a course designed initially to assist people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that were difficult to treat in a hospital setting. Through training and perseverance, these benefits are available in the relative (dis)comfort of one’s own skull.
People often practice Mindfulness meditation by sitting with eyes closed, cross-legged on a cushion, or on a chair, with the back straight; drawing their attention to the movement of the abdomen when breathing in and out, or on the awareness of the breath as it goes in and out the nostrils. As distracting thoughts arise, one returns to focusing on the object of meditation, such as the breath. One simply notices that one’s mind has wandered, but in an accepting, non-judgmental way and then returns to the meditation. As we cannot effectively concentrate on more than one task at a time, the distractions tend to lose their power to disturb, making space for more compassionate, less harsh, analysis of their meaning, reason, or purpose. Eventually, these challenges may become like passing clouds that enter the field of vision, float past, and then disappear from view.
Meditation often starts with short periods of 10 minutes or so a day. With regular practice, it becomes easier to keep the attention focused on breathing. From this awareness of the breath, it is possible to extend attention into awareness of thoughts, feelings, and actions
Mindfulness creates awareness of what is going on in our mind. Through becoming aware of thoughts, without connecting to the background story, it is possible to become more aware of unhealthy mental habits. Mindfulness meditation can give greater insight into how the mind creates distress, but importantly also the tools with which to deal with those experiences.
Personal and Spiritual Development
In the realm of personal and spiritual development, we need to reach beyond the noise of our mind to connect with our own inner being: if its own stories distract the mind, intuition gets crowded out. Moving to a quieter inner space brings realisation of the separation between self and mind. One is a being who has a mind, who can witness the mind’s activities. This realisation leads to greater detachment from automatic thought processes. We know that we experience thoughts like we experience the weather and that those thoughts are not truth. It is in this gentle space when we can hear the voice of our intuition. It is from there that happiness emerges. This happiness stems from within, unconnected to any outside reference. This happiness stems from the core of our being. The more we get in touch with it the more it stays with us. With regular practice, the brain’s neuroplasticity allows for the development of alternate mental pathways, freeing the mind from the roads so often – and fruitlessly – travelled in the past.
Mindfulness ultimately can be a way of life, which you are free to choose if you so want. To quote an unknown but wise soul, “Some people like white bread; others prefer brown bread.”