‘Mindfulness’ has become somewhat of a buzz word of late. Companies including Google and Facebook regularly hold mindfulness sessions for their employees.
However mindfulness dates back to ancient times – its roots lie in the teachings of the Eastern philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism. In today’s world, mindfulness is just as relevant. Through the practice of mindfulness, we are better able deal with the emotional struggles we face on a day-to-day basis.
What is Mindfulness?
The founder of the modern mindfulness movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That is, maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment – all without internal criticism.
Essentially, mindfulness is the practice of intentionally being aware of the present moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
One of the most sought benefits of mindfulness is learning to respond better to negative emotional states such as anxiety, stress, anger and regret. However, the benefits of mindfulness extend both more broadly and fundamentally.
Through the skilful use of mindfulness, we can learn to interrupt habits, such as getting lost in our thoughts and rumination. It is these thoughts, often focusing on the future or past events, which can add stress or anxiety to the ever present pressures of everyday life.
With a consistent mindfulness practice, we can learn to better understand our mind, its activity and the thought processes that shape and condition our lives. Most importantly, we can learn to recognise and interrupt these unhelpful processes.
By being mindful, we take our life off ‘autopilot’ and start taking a more active control of our emotions, rather than being driven by them. As a result, we become able to cultivate states of positive psychological and physical wellbeing.
How to Practice Mindfulness
1. Thoughts and feelings
Mindfulness involves consciously trying to observe our thoughts and feelings. We try to observe them arising. We then try to observe them passing through us. Eventually, we try to observe them leaving us, ceasing to exist.
Practicing mindfulness involves trying to not judge our experiences of our thoughts and feelings as either good or bad; we simply try to notice them. If we find ourselves passing judgment, we simply try to observe this judgment and let it go. Mindfulness is an emotionally non-reactive state.
3. Letting it go
Through mindfulness, we try not attach to thoughts. If a distressing thought comes to mind, we try to just notice it. We try to notice how it feels. Are there any accompanying physical sensations? How do they feel? Where are they felt? We are not trying to get rid of anything, or do anything with the thoughts and feelings. Just notice. Mindfulness is simply the noticing of our thoughts and feelings. Once we notice them, there is nothing further to do. They are just thoughts. They will come and they will go; they are fleeting.
Though mindfulness we learn that it is the attachment to thoughts and feelings that can cause us distress. That is, ruminating on things that we cannot solve by thinking about them over and again. By practicing mindfulness, noticing our thoughts and letting them go, we can bolster ourselves against the potentially negative effects of holding on to these thoughts and the potential stresses and anxiety that they may bring.
When should I practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Your next meal is a good opportunity to practice mindfulness. As you eat, try to eat very slowly, consciously chewing your food. Notice how you feel in the moment. Pay attention to how the food tastes and feels in your mouth and the sensation of swallowing. Be aware of your level of enjoyment. Notice how you feel. This is the practice of mindfulness. Paying attention to, and accepting the present moment for what it is, nothing more, nothing less.