What is Mindfulness? We hear about it more and more regularly. It has become a “buzzword” in recent years. But what does it actually mean and what are the real benefits, if any, that it can bring?
A sense of awareness of the present moment lies at the heart of what it means to cultivate mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as follows: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.” In other words it is about getting a handle on your “thinking mind”.
This very moment is the only moment we have. We can lose ‘being in the moment’ by ruminating over the past or fast forwarding into the future. If we can be more mindful to each moment we can begin to see the processes that occur within us at any given time. We can see the subtle sensations, thoughts and feelings that lie behind our actions and motivate our behaviour. We can begin to choose how we react to the stimuli around us, and even influence our habitual moods and emotional states. At the very least we can begin to develop an attitude of kindness towards ourselves, and others, in our moment-to-moment experience.
How do we actually do it? Commonly the breath is used as a focus, or “anchor” to the present moment. By simply paying attention to the sensations we experience with each breath – in and out – we are able to shift attention away from our thoughts and develop stability of awareness. Following this simple practice can reveal quite how powerful and insistent the mind’s thinking processes are! When I sit down and meditate I find a tendency for my thoughts to focus again and again on different ideas and plans for the future – anything as banal as remembering to add milk to the shopping list to thinking about a visit or a break. It has been very helpful to discover that, with practice, I can relinquish the planning and settle into the present moment. Yes, planning is helpful and necessary in moderation, but it can undermine my actual enjoyment of what’s going on right now as I’m too busy planning the next thing!
Notice today, anytime your mood changes (for good or for bad) and immediately check in with yourself what you are thinking about. You will very quickly see that it is your thoughts that are making your feelings. Instantly switch into what you can see, hear, feel, taste and smell in your immediate environment. Now you have access the other part of your mind and body, slow down, follow your breath and allow yourself to enjoy the present moment.