Do you wish away moments in anticipation of what’s to come? Or perhaps get lost in what happened in the past–yesterday, last year or even decades ago?
The word ‘mindfulness’ gets tossed around today with some of us resonating with this construct and others recoiling at the seemingly overuse of this now popularized term. The origins of this term comes out of the Buddhist traditions of meditation called Vipassana.
So, what is mindfulness anyway?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Mindfulness is that quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn who popularized the term mindfulness in the late 1970’s explains it as the “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally–in the service of self understanding and wisdom.
Simply put it is the ability to be fully awake and present to our experiences without being overwhelmed or confused by whatever we may be feeling.
This means bearing witness while tolerating thoughts and emotions as they arise–ultimately with a quality and kindness and compassion towards the self.
We all possess the ability to be mindful. However when we practice mindfulness with intention we can get better at living more consciously–better able to experience thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.
Strengthening the ability to be mindful reconfigures the physical structure of the brain.
Different regions of the brain light up when we are mindful as opposed to when our senses are dull and distracted.
Some benefits of mindfulness:
- Increases positive emotions, and ability to self-regulate
- Improves health and physical well-being
- Enhances memory, learning and the ability to focus.
- Improves relationships and fights obesity.
- The good news is that the brain continues to develop throughout the life cycle especially if we choose to engage in certain practices.
These practices benefit us on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
How to cultivate mindfulness:
One way to cultivate the mindfulness is with a simple breathing exercise.
- Get into a comfortable sitting position in good alignment either in a chair or on a cushion.
- Feel the contact that your body is making with the chair or cushion and how that feels.
- Pay close attention to your breathing–the rise and fall of each breath. Notice how you breathe when your emotions shift.
- Deeply observe any sensations you are experiencing as you practice. Tune into your senses of sight, sound smell, taste and touch.
- Recognize thoughts and feelings as they are in your mind and body without embellishing or ‘feeding’ them in any way. Just notice.
Practice this for a couple of minutes at a time just to get your mind used to paying attention in this way.
Over time you may wish to practice for 3 minutes and then 4 minutes and then continue to expand this practice.
Sitting and practicing is the most concentrated to cultivate the ability to be mindful, but in time you’ll be able to extend this moment to moment awareness into other aspects of your life regardless of what you’re doing.
You can practice mindfulness while walking, eating, driving your car, talking to your children or washing the dishes. Ultimately you’ll be able to bring this higher level of consciousness into all areas of your life.
It’s not about perfection. It’s about improving the moment to moment quality of your life and living more fully in the present.
What results do you notice after even just one moment of mindfulness practice?