Mindfulness is the state of being awake to the present moment; being consciously aware of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations as they arise moment by moment, with an attitude of compassion and non-judgemental acceptance.
The above description of mindfulness is in pretty stark contrast to most people’s everyday experience of life.
At the breakfast table, you absent-mindedly wolf down your cornflakes and coffee, your head filled with a million thoughts about the day ahead.
At some point, you look down and notice the empty bowl on the table in front of you but you can’t remember having eaten the contents.
Lost in thought, you missed out on sweet the aroma of the coffee, the taste and texture of the food (cornflakes taste amazing when you eat them mindfully!), the sunlight streaming in through the window, the birds singing outside.
Then your body is driving the car to work but again, you are absent. You’re lost in your head, replaying a conversation you had with a client the day before. The sky, the clouds, the trees en route are beautiful but there’s no-one there to notice them.
The next thing you know, you’re pulling into the car park at work but you can’t remember driving there. You’re then sitting at your desk, dreaming about the weekend or your next holiday. And so it goes on.
We experience life second-hand— through the stale content in our heads—rather than directly, through the present moment, which is ever fresh, vibrant and alive.
As Robert Holden, director of the Happiness Project, succinctly puts it:
“If you think there’s something missing in your life, it’s probably YOU!”
So What Is Mindfulness And How Can It Help?
Most people are lost in unconscious thinking from the moment they wake up until the time they go to bed again.
Bedtime used to be my favourite time of day because it was the only time I got a break from incessant thinking. If only I’d known about mindfulness then.
Three main issues arise when thinking is unconscious and happening on autopilot:
- we can become trapped in a downward spiral of negative thinking—overwhelmed by patterns such as anxiety, worry, fear, stress or depression—with no idea how to free ourselves.
- we miss out on the fullness and splendour of life through failing to notice the miracles that surround us in every moment.
- we go through life without ever experiencing who we are on a deeper level— the still, silent, peaceful space that exists within every one of us.
Through helping us consciously focus on the present moment, mindfulness allows us to break out of autopilot mode, get out of our heads and engage more fully with life.
It helps us show up for our lives.
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How To Practice Mindfulness?
The basic idea is to use a focal point such as the breath, physical sensations in the body or the senses (sound, touch etc.) to anchor your attention in the moment and prevent the mind from wandering.
Each time the mind wanders off into the past or future, you gently bring your awareness back to the present moment through consciously putting your attention on your chosen point of focus.
One of the key insights in mindfulness is that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with thoughts appearing, even if they are negative or unpleasant.
Most of our suffering comes, not from our thoughts, feelings and emotions themselves, but from our resistance to them.
Mindfulness practice is about allowing your experience to be as it is, with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance.
It is about learning to face whatever arises in your experience, whether pleasant of unpleasant, with an attitude of non-resistance and equanimity.
Here’s a short guided meditation you might like to try.
Settling the Mind Meditation (9 minutes)
The Two Wings Of Mindfulness
Another key focus in mindfulness training is to nurture the qualities of kindness and compassion towards self and others.
Although secular in nature, mindfulness originally came from the Buddhist tradition, which places great emphasis on these qualities.
The focus on love and compassion was what personally drew me to mindfulness and to train as a teacher, even though I’d been teaching other forms of meditation for years.
In mindfulness training, we use the image of the two wings of a bird. The first wing is awareness, the second is the attitude of kindness and compassion.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been the subject of a lot of scientific research and the benefits are far-reaching and well-documented.
Learning to calm the mind and rest in the still, silent space within brings tremendous benefit to all levels of our being—physical, mental and spiritual.
When we stop feeding our toxic thinking patterns, stress drops away, which in turn, allows the body to heal on a deep level.
Mindfulness stimulates the immune function, lowers blood pressure, promotes deep sleep and reduces the cognitive decline associated with ageing, amongst other benefits
Dealing With A Troubled Mind
Mindfulness is the best tool I know for dealing with conditions such as stress, anxiety, worry, depression, self-criticism or unworthiness.
As it is NOT a therapy, it doesn’t involve analysing these patterns and offering fixes.
Mindfulness helps you change the way you relate to the mind. When you stop fighting what is present in your experience and allow everything to be just as it is, without judgement and without resistance, you learn to make peace with whatever you are experiencing—pleasant or unpleasant.
Coming Home To Yourself
“Being mindful is often described as a sense of ‘coming home.’ There is a feeling of completeness and being connected in a deeper way to yourself and the world around you. It can be said that this feeling is what we are all chasing after — it’s often felt as a longing for deeper calm or greater vitality and richness in our lives.” — Faye Adams
In every one of us, there is a deep longing to feel complete, at ease with who we are and to connect deeply with ourselves, with others and with the world.
This is perhaps the greatest gift that mindfulness has to offer?
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