What is Mindfulness?
bringing a kind, non-judgemental attention to the present moment
Mindfulness is essentially a way of focusing our minds on our present experience. Being mindful can help us cope with the challenges and stresses of daily life. Sometimes we miss present delights or make our difficulties even harder because we get consumed by thoughts about the past and future. Mindfulness means we can notice our churning thoughts, and find calm even in the midst of great difficulties.
These include focusing on our breathing, sensations in the body and simple yoga movements. When we practise mindfulness, we try to place our attention on our present experience. Bringing our minds back when they wander - as they will, it's what minds do - with kindness and patience.
We practise using our senses, and in particular the breath and body sensations, as anchors to help us rest in the present moment, watching our thoughts and feelings come and go. By noticing our thoughts with a friendly curiosity, we can catch negative thought patterns before they cause us to spiral downwards. With awareness of our thoughts, we can save ourselves a great deal of stress and anxiety. As your mindfulness practice grows, you'll discover you can remain detached from your thoughts and learn how to let them go.
What is meditation?
Meditation means using a technique, such as mindfulness, to focus our minds on a particular object, thought or activity. People sometimes ask how the definition of mindfulness is different to the definition of meditation: put simply, we practise meditation to help us achieve a mindful awareness.
Formal meditation is when we take time to practise focusing on the breath, body sensations, sounds, thoughts or emotions. This type of meditation is where we develop mindfulness skills, such as bringing back our wandering minds, again and again.
Informal meditation is when we might bring awareness to a daily activity, such as washing up, brushing our teeth, listening to music or being stuck in traffic! It can be any experience. We simply bring our awareness to our senses in that moment, allowing thoughts to come and go with acceptance.
There are benefits to both types of mindful meditation. The more we practise formal meditations, the easier it is to bring mindful awareness informally throughout our day. When being in the moment, without judgement, we can find greater joy in life.
“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”
Joy and kindness
Besides helping us deal with stress and anxiety, mindfulness can also enrich our day to day lives. When we pay attention to the present moment, we're able to savour the simple pleasures that we might otherwise miss in our busy lives: seeing birds flying in a pattern across a cloudy sky, warm hands, the smooth surface of a spoon – so many riches when we pause and open our senses.
Developing kindness towards ourselves and others benefits 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 a method of mental training - it's not religious and it's not Buddhism. Meditation practices and techniques can last for just a few minutes, but patience and persistence are needed for lasting effect.
Mindfulness is about seeing the world with greater clarity. When we use the word ‘acceptance’, we don't simply mean accepting the unacceptable or resigning ourselves to situations we do not like. What we resist tends to persist. When we bring self-compassion and greater awareness to a difficult situation, we can make wiser, more considered decisions.
Luckily, the myths around mindfulness are starting to fade. More and more people are discovering the benefits of meditation - increased concentration, better sleep, reduced anxiety and a greater appreciation for life.
Mindfulness is not a cure for everything
but for many people it's a major step towards
good mental health and wellbeing.