What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Breaking that sentence down, the three main concepts of Mindfulness are awareness, being non-judgmental and learning to live in the present. Let’s look at these concepts in some detail.
The aim is to increase awareness of what is going on both internally (our thoughts and emotions), and externally (the world around us). We are then better able to control how we respond and even how we feel in any given moment.
What generally happens is that we attach drama to situations and tell ourselves, and others, stories around what has actually taken place. This can lead us into a downward spiral of negative thinking. If we allow negative thoughts to become habitual, they generate negative feelings within the body and emotions.
By becoming more aware, we are trying to avoid doing this and observe only what has actually occurred.
So if something happens and you find yourself getting upset, by observing the situation and your own feelings in a detached way, you can bring your feelings back under control.
Here the aim is to refrain from judging ourselves or anyone else. We learn to be judgmental (young children don’t judge), so we can unlearn it.
Very often, the reason we judge others so harshly is because internally we are judging ourselves. The hardest thing about this is learning to stop judging ourselves. In a mindful approach we let go of the negative internal dialogue and come back to the emotion only – ‘How am I feeling?’ – without any judgment.
- Living in the present
Learning to bring our thoughts and feelings into the present moment is one of the key principles of Mindfulness. The concept is described by Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. It can be summed us as ‘Being in the present, in any given moment, as much as possible.’
The problem is that we have butterfly minds. Our minds flutter all over the place, especially when we are trying to be quiet. The challenge is to control this butterfly mind, bringing it back to what is happening in the present moment only.
By learning to control this butterfly mind and live in the present, we can become more focused and aware, and less anxious, fearful and judgmental.
How does Mindfulness help?
- Improves both emotional and physical health
- Makes it easier to enjoy each moment of every day
- Helps you to become more focused on your activities with fewer distractions
- Better able to deal positively with distractions when they do occur, or to let them go
- Less fearful for the future or regretting the past
- Better able to form deep connections with others.
Scientists have also discovered that mindfulness techniques can:
- help relieve stress
- treat heart disease
- lower blood pressure
- reduce chronic pain
- improve sleep
- alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
Psychotherapists have discovered the benefits of mindfulness in treating problems such as:
- substance abuse
- eating disorders
- couples’ conflicts
- anxiety disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A Basic Mindfulness Meditation
Sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. As thoughts come along, allow them to disappear, like clouds, without judging or creating story. Each time the mind wanders, come back again to focusing on the breath.
Now bring your focus to each part of the body in turn, starting with the feet and working your way up the body to the head. As you focus on each body part, notice, without judgment, if there is any body sensation such as discomfort, tingling or itching, and then move the awareness away from that part of the body to the next.
Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Name them as such and without judgment, let them go.
As emotions appear or are noticed, allow them to be present, without judgment. Name the emotions: ‘anger’, ‘joy’ ‘frustration’. Accept their presence and let them go.
If cravings appear (for addictive substances or behaviours), notice how the body feels and allow them to pass, again without judgment. Replace the craving with the knowledge that it will pass.
When the mind becomes still, stay with that stillness for a few moments.
Make a note of how this was for you, before getting up and on with your day.
If you want to know more about this, please get in touch.