What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
Mindfulness exercises allow you to be able to identify, tolerate and reduce difficult, painful and even frightening thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness gives you back some sense of mastery over our thoughts and feelings. Rather than having the sense that you are being pushed around by your feelings and thoughts you learn to be able to have some agency over them.
So what is this thing called mindfulness? Below are some definitions:
- The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
- The non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise (Baer, 2003).
- Keeping one’s complete attention to the experience on a moment to moment basis (Martlett & Kristeller, 1999).
Put simply, mindfulness is as simple as becoming aware of your here and now experience, both internally and in the external world around you. It gives you a space in the present moment to be able to more safely deal with the distressing and painful memories of things that might have happened to you in the past. It also allows you to look at and plan for the future, even when you might have fearful thoughts about things that haven’t yet happened, from a secure position of knowing that you are in the present moment. In fact, we are never NOT in the present moment – we just lose track of that fact quite often.
Sometimes it is easier to understand something in terms of what it is not. Here are some examples of mindLESSness:
- Breaking things, spilling things, clumsiness, accidents because of carelessness, inattention or thinking about something else.
- Failing to notice subtle or not-so-subtle feelings of physical discomfort, pain, tension etc.
- Forgetting someone’s name as soon as you hear it.
- Listening to someone with one ear while doing something else at the same time.
- Getting so focussed on goals that I lose touch with what I am doing right now.
- Getting lost in my thoughts and feelings.
- Being preoccupied with the future or the past.
- Eating without being aware of eating.
- Having periods of time where you have difficulty remembering the details of what happened – running on autopilot.
- Reacting emotionally in certain ways – feeling like an emotion just “came out of nowhere.”
- Daydreaming or thinking of other things when doing chores.
- Doing several things at once rather than focussing on one thing at a time.
- Distracting yourself with things like eating, alcohol, pornography, drugs, work.
If you do some or even most of these things at times, then you are probably a normal member of the human race.