What is Mindfulness?
Imagine living your life so that you are present to your experience rather than caught up in thinking about the past or future. Of course, we need to be able to remember our past and be creative for our futures, but sometimes we miss present delights or make our difficulties even harder because we get so caught up in our thoughts. We can be consumed by over- thinking about the past, or the future. With mindfulness, we can notice our churning thoughts, and when we do, we can find calm even in the midst of anguish.
Mindfulness is essentially a way of focusing our minds on the present, without judgement. It means paying attention - real attention - to what is happening right now. When you're mindful, you experience life with curiosity and a sense of openness and acceptance. Better still, it can help you discover new ways to cope with the challenges and stresses of daily life.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
on purpose, in the present moment,
Mindfulness techniques include focusing on our breathing, sensations in the body and simple yoga movements. When we practise mindfulness, we place our attention, as best we can, on our present experience. Bringing our minds back whenever they wander - as they will, it's what minds do - with kindness and patience.
Much of our suffering comes from resisting our experiences, wanting things to be different from the way they are. A sense of peace is not always found by having everything that we want, but it can be discovered through accepting whatever we have.
We practise using our breath and body sensations as anchors to help us rest in the present, watching our thoughts and feelings come and go. We can learn to relate to all our thoughts (big, small, trivial or serious), with the same calm, compassionate detachment. By noticing our thoughts with a friendly curiosity, we can catch negative thought patterns before they send us off along the same old spiralling pathways. Certain negative patterns of thought can be very draining, and can sometimes lead to mental illness, addiction, physical ill-health or even a full breakdown. With awareness of our thoughts, we can save ourselves a great deal of anxiety, depression and that horrible feeling of being trapped inside our own repetitive thought patterns. As your practice grows, you discover you can remain detached from your thoughts and learn how to let them go.
“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
Besides helping us deal with stress and anxiety, mindfulness can also enrich our day to day lives. By paying attention to the present moment, we can savour simple pleasures that we may otherwise miss as we rush through our busy days: seeing birds flying in a pattern across a cloudy sky, hearing children playing, feeling a soft breeze on your face, warm hands, the smooth surface of a spoon – so many riches when we pause and open our senses.
Developing kindness towards oneself and others can only be of benefit to us all. Approaching challenges with gentleness and care can make such a difference in an age when we are often our own harshest critics.
“The moment one gives close attention
even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome,
world in itself.”
To clarify a few myths about mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply a method of mental training; it not religious and is not Buddhism. Meditation practices and techniques can take as little as a few minutes but patience and persistence are needed for lasting effect. It is helpful to sit upright when you meditate but you can bring mindful awareness to everything you do, including movement, eating and to most aspects of your life.
Mindfulness is about seeing the world with greater clarity. When we use the word ‘acceptance’ with mindfulness, we do not mean simply accepting the unacceptable or resigning ourselves to situations we do not like. However, what we resist tends to persist. When we bring self-compassion and greater awareness to a difficult or unpleasant situation, we can take wiser, more considered actions towards finding the best path forward.
The myths around mindfulness are dissolving as more and more people discover its many benefits - increased concentration, better sleep, reduced anxiety and a greater appreciation for life.
Mindfulness is not a cure for everything
but for many people it is a major step towards
good mental health and wellbeing.
Listen to Mark Williams' engaging talk, (45 minutes)
Eckhart Tolle's entertaining talk (10 minutes),