Extract from “Everyday Mindfulness”
By Claire Owens
Have you ever spent more than ten minutes looking for your keys? Have you ever driven home and been unable to remember the journey? Have you ever been in conversation with someone and suddenly realised that you have no idea what they just said? If so, you may be interested in mindfulness. Most of us, being human, can answer yes to some, if not all, of the above questions. It is our humanness that mindfulness addresses: more specifically, the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that are naturally part of us and our everyday experiences. The pace of modern life has had the effect that in general, people are less present to their “here and now” experiences. The tendency is to multitask: to listen to music while we read, to talk on the phone while we prepare dinner and then watch television while we eat the same dinner. We live in a busy world and very little time is spent on just being you.
Mindfulness is not a new concept: it was developed in India over 2,500 years ago. It was part of a path to enlightenment and awakening and most religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, have meditation traditions. Mindfulness, put simply, is being present in the moment while accepting whatever is going on inside us or outside of us, without judgement. The most widely accepted definition is from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. He defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention in the present moment without labelling thoughts, feelings and physical sensations as good or bad but accepting them as being part of us, but not all of us.
The Healing Power of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is often practiced as a form of meditation and has also been integrated into many forms of psychotherapy. Research shows that mindfulness can bring about changes in the structure of the brain, influencing our ability to manage stress and our everyday contact with the world. Most of the time we live our lives on “autopilot” – our minds seem to have a will of their own. Thoughts come and go in an endless, sometimes erratic stream and it seems as if we have very little control over what thoughts turn up in our head. If each of us were to stand back and observe our own mind, we would notice how easily our thoughts skip from one unfinished idea to the next, from one argument to another with a constant stream of images, thoughts and memories.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing our attention on the moment and without judgement, observing all aspects of the world around us, as well as our thoughts, feelings and reactions. Through mindfulness we can learn to “take a step back”, observing this mental activity and all the feelings and impulses that it generates. A space opens up where we can choose how the mind influences our reactions and behaviour. It allows us to be more aware of our external surroundings and our inner world. With practice, mindfulness can become a conscious, active way of being in the world, enriching and deepening our daily experience.
From How to Be Happy and Healthy – the Seven Natural Elements of Mental Health published by Ashfield Press. Interested in learning more? Check out the book in its entirety here.