What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means the intentional cultivation of moment-to-moment attention and awareness. It is the practice of “being present in the moment.”
Mindfulness allows one to develop and refine a way of becoming more intimate with one’s own experience through systematic self-observation:
– which includes the five senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting)
– the inner landscape or what is arising inwardly such as physical sensations, perceptions, impulses, emotions, intentions, thoughts, and the process of thinking itself
– the outer landscape which includes our speech, our actions, how they impact us as well as those around us, and our relationships with others.
It is about deepening the awareness of our direct experience — or what can be called the “context” (what is actually happening physically, emotionally, and mentally in that moment of our lives) versus the “content” of our lives (the stories we tell ourselves about what we think is happening at the moment).
Mindfulness includes intentionally suspending the impulse to characterize, evaluate, and judge what one is experiencing. Doing so affords multiple opportunities to step back like a silent witness and move beyond the well-worn grooves of highly conditioned and largely habitual unexamined thought processes and strong emotional reactivity.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to reach relaxation and calm or an enhanced spiritual state of being. There are many types of meditation such as mantra (repeating a word or phrase), visualization, transcendental, Qi Gong, etc., all sharing a similar goal of achieving inner peace.
Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Oxford, dispels some myths about meditation: Meditation is not a religion, it is not about “success” or “failure”, it will not deaden your mind or prevent you from striving toward important career or lifestyle goals. It is not about accepting the unacceptable. It is about “seeing the world with greater clarity so that you can take wiser and more considered action to change those things that need to be changed. Meditation helps cultivate a deep and compassionate awareness that allows you to assess your goals and find the optimum path towards realizing your deeper values”.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation. It is a way of being and includes both a narrow and wide range of awareness developing flexibility of mind and opening of the heart. It teaches us how to remain balanced, even through difficulty, so that we are able to “respond” in more healthful ways rather than continue to “react”.
Mindfulness is a practice, a way of being that is innate in all of us, it is universal. Because it is a practice, its cultivation is a process that unfolds and deepens over time. Mindfulness can be practiced formally (mindfulness meditation) or informally by bringing kind and gentle awareness to the full range of our experience of daily activities.