What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose, to what is happening right now in this moment.
A non-judgemental awareness of our present experience just as it is.
An Ancient Wisdom
Mindfulness is the unfailing master key for knowing the mind, the perfect tool for shaping the mind and achieved freedom of the mind – Nyanaponika Thera (1962)
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism. At over two and a half thousand years old this is a powerful, wholesome mind and body practice.
Today it is where ancient wisdom meets modern day psychology and life. The founder of mainstream mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, wanted to retain the Buddhist roots, but also to make this life-changing practice accessible to all, no matter what your orientation, background or beliefs. The 8-week courses running today (MBSR and MBCT) are based on scientific evidence and can be enjoyed by all, with no knowledge or leaning to Buddhism.
Mindfulness is very down to earth. It is for ordinary people, who juggle and deal with the ups and downs of life.
It is mental awareness skills training. Training the attentional muscle of the mind to be aware of thoughts, feelings and body sensations as they arise from moment to moment. This powerful skill can be trained, enabling us to harness our attention, in the breath or body, at any given moment of the day. This gives us space and time between a stimulus and our response.
In each moment, we can open to the space between a stimulus and our reactions; we do not have to react to all of life’s difficulties (Feldman & Kuyken, 2019).
The Happiness Paradox
It is human to want good physical and mental health, to be happy, free from struggling and to enjoy life with ease. However, with the challenges life brings, coupled with our constant striving, comparisons to others and being self-critical for not doing enough or being enough, we can be left feeling depleted and dissatisfied. We strive to try to change aspects of our lives into an ideal reality that will deliver the happiness and ease we crave. Yet health, happiness and success may seem fleeting, altered by the inevitable tides of change. As a result, we may feel low, that we’ve failed or are unworthy. We feel worried, stressed or anxious and these, understandable, feelings are maintained by our misguided attempts to change the unchangeable (Feldman & Kuken, 2019).
Living in Our heads
- Ever driven to work and not remembered the journey?
- Put your keys down and cannot find them?
- Eaten a bag of crisps and before you know it the whole bag has gone?
This is automatic pilot, when our mind is elsewhere. We spend much of our time lost in our heads – problem-solving, planning, worrying about the future, thinking about the past. We are rarely present.
We can easily get caught in the grip of thinking, taking our thoughts to be reality and drawn into constantly trying to fix what is perceived as being “not quite right” according to our ideals and standards. This can be exhausting, it depletes our energy and leads to discontent. The constant striving, living in our heads, means we miss the present moment and all the richness of it.
Can we make the most of the opportunities we actually have in life, by making the most of the only moments we ever have…and it’s always this one (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2019).
How Can We Be Happier?
By being more present in our daily life, becoming aware of what’s going on in our body mind we open up the present moment pathway in the brain to all the joy, the positives and the fullness each moment has to offer. We are able to hold all the good alongside the difficulties.
The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little. They are your life (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Untangling the Knots
Experiencing difficulty is part of being human. A natural response to certain situations. However, our attempts to get rid of stress, anxiousness or depression by thinking our way out of them, trying to push them away, are the very things that deepen and prolong our moods (Teasdale, Williams & Segal, 2014).
Mindfulness practice changes how the brain responds difficult situations. The practice does not stop thoughts or fix unpleasant emotions or moods. Rather, it enables us to see clearly a mood shift or a difficult emotion as it arises. We attend to it and unhook from it before we spiral down and become reactive or overwhelmed, which makes us feel worse.
Mindfulness changes our relationship to stress, anxiety, worry and mood, helping us to untangle the knots and manage our mental health with greater balance.
We cannot get rid of difficulties, they are part of life, but we can change the way we respond to them. Bringing mindful compassion and acceptance to our experience makes us less reactive and gives us more power. Mindfulness empowers us with wisdom, calm and resilience. Ultimately, living with more presence, self-care and happiness.