Mindfulness is a technique that can beautifully tranquilize the conflicts and stress one undergoes in the modern era. Mindfulness not only sharpens our focus but also helps generate attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life . Being mindful makes it easier to savour the pleasures in life as they occur, enhances one’s capacity to deal with turbulent events and develop ability to form deep connections with others. Mindfulness is increasingly being used in conjunction with psychotherapy to deal with a variety of issues like depression, OCD, couple problems, eating disorders etc. It is also extensively used as an aid in healing of many physical ailments.
Before I share a simple technique for you to start on mindfulness, lets first understand what is mindfulness.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Kabat – Zinn
Let us first understand each element of this definition.
Paying attention on purpose means a conscious direction of our awareness. We mistakenly might take “mindfulness” and “awareness” as interchangeable terms, but reality is there is a difference. I may be aware I’m angry, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my anger. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware.
When we are purposefully aware of our anger, we are consciously being aware of every detail of our anger process. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations in our body, for example, one may notice that the arms are getting stiffen or a splurge of heat in the body (different people can have different sensations), and our responses to those sensations for example, clenching of fists, jaws etc. We’re noticing the mind wandering to past hurtful events in general or specifically related to the person we are angry with, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.
When we’re angry unmindfully we may in theory be aware that we are angry and shouting, but we’re probably thinking about and doing many other things at the same time, we may also be cleaning kitchen, or tying hair of the little one and talking to maid. So a very small part of our awareness is involved with anger, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.
Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our anger. There’s no purposefulness. Purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
Paying attention “in the present moment” means being completely concerned with noticing what’s going on right now, what’s arising in the present moment. This does not mean that we just can’t think about the past or future, but only, that when we do so we do it so mindfully, that we’re aware that right now we’re thinking about the past or future. We try to notice this and just come back to present moment experience.
Left to itself the mind can wander through all kinds of thoughts, including thoughts of anger, craving, sadness, revenge, self-pity, etc. Indulging in these kinds of thoughts only reinforces those emotions in our hearts and cause us to suffer. Mostly, we’ll notice that these thoughts are about either the past or future. The past no longer exists. The future is just a fantasy until it happens. Yet, we pamper them the most and completely avoid the present moment – one moment we actually can experience.
By purposefully directing our consciousness away from such thoughts and fastening the connection to our present moment experience, we decrease their control on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
Paying attention “non-judgmentally” means accepting our sensations, thoughts and emotions while noticing them without judging the experience to be good or bad. Noticing without being emotionally reactive. Or if we do make those judgements we simply notice them like a observer and let go of them without getting upset or involved. With mindfulness, even the most disturbing sensations, feelings, thoughts, and experiences, can be viewed from a wider perspective as passing events in the mind, rather than as “us”, or as necessarily true. By simply being present in this way, you support your own deep healing (Brantley 2003).
Mindfulness can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation, a systematic method of focusing your attention.You can learn to meditate on your own, following instructions in books or on tape. However, you may benefit more from the support of an instructor or group to answer questions and help you stay motivated.
If you have to say you are too busy for formal meditation, you can also cultivate mindfulness informally starting focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. You may start with the following process:
- Choose an activity to do mindfully throughout the day, for one, two or five minutes. Forexample: Drink a cup of tea. Walk. Wash the dishes.
- Whatever you are doing, be in that moment, right now. See, hear, smell, touch, feel, breathe.
- Simply notice whenever other thoughts and sensations come to mind, then re-focus on your chosen mindful activity.
- Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
- Describe… rather than judge good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.
- It is as it is.