This will be the first of four posts in our month of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Everywhere you go, you’re being told to be mindful. You’re supposed to eat mindfully, parent mindfully, work mindfully, and even wash the dishes mindfully. But what does that really mean?
Today, I am going to take a quick moment to demystify mindfulness. If you’ve ever wondered what mindfulness actually is, this post will answer your question.
Mindfulness means being in the moment. Simple as that.
If you want a more elaborate definition of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the developer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”.
So, for example, when you’re eating mindfully, you’re paying attention to the food, how it tastes, how it smells, how it feels in your body, signals of hunger and fullness; you’re not shoveling in food without noticing how it tastes while you watch TV.
And when you’re washing dishes mindfully, you’re noticing the feeling of the water, the posture of your body, the fragrance of the soap – stuff like that.
Without Mindfulness, You May be Missing the Sweetest Moments of Your Life
Mindfulness gets us out of our heads and into our lives. If you pay attention to what’s happening right now, you’re reading this blog post, but very likely, there’s a commentator in your head just chattering away. We live with a running commentary going on all the time.
As you take a walk, you may be partly engaged in the walk, but also listening to the ramblings of your mind. Or your mind may be just wandering and daydreaming. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and there may be some value to daydreaming when you don’t overdo it, but when you’re listening to your inner commentators rather than experiencing the moments of your life you can miss out on the sweetest moments of your life.
Our inner commentators also may be stirring up trouble for us, making harsh or incorrect judgments of ourselves and others. When we’re mindful, we get those moments of our lives back, we have the opportunity to smell the proverbial roses, and we also give ourselves freedom from our thoughts, judgments and emotions.
We can’t be mindful all the time, and I don’t believe that we should, but many of us can benefit from learning to become more mindful. And that’s where mindfulness practice comes in.
You Have to Practice
Because our minds default to mindlessness, mindfulness does take practice. And it can be practiced formally, like meditation, or informally, as when we choose to engage in an everyday activity mindfully. Mindfulness trainers suggest we do a little of both.
I think of it as exercise. You need to workout to build your mindfulness muscle.
And research suggests that practicing mindfulness formally offers a host of benefits that go beyond engagement in your life, and freedom from the tyranny of your thoughts and emotions; mindfulness practice has been shown to improve relationships, to impact brain function, and to improve health.
That's it for today
In the next 3 posts in this series, I’ll clear up some misconceptions about how to practice mindfulness, tell you about some of the proven benefits of mindfulness practice, and offer concrete suggestions for how to develop a mindfulness practice that works within the reality of your life.
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