Mindfulness 101
Monday, 08 July 2013 14:58

The practice of mindfulness is both old and new.  New, because in the last several years, there has been an explosion of research on using mindfulness meditation to treat anxiety, depression, and pain.   Old, because it comes from an old spiritual tradition:  Buddhism.

So, what is mindfulness, anyway?  The simple answer is that it is about being in the present moment with full awareness.  Mindfulness expert and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgment.

Let's take a look at each of these characteristics of mindfulness.  First, "paying attention":  this sounds easy, but is, in fact,  rare.  We are constantly surrounded by distractions:  cell phones, TV, radio, that pull our attention away from what is right in front of us.

"On purpose":  This suggests that we have a choice about where to direct our attention.  Most of the time, our attention jumps around on auto pilot, without our awareness.  

"To the present moment":  Again, this sounds simple, but actually take some effort.  We are in the habit of dwelling in the past or the future.  We are analysing or reviewing what happened in the past, or worrying about what may happen in the future.  The problem with this is that we miss our lives has they are happening, moment by moment.

The last aspect of mindfulness is perhaps the most important.  "Without judgement":  We all have the habit of judging ourselves so harshly!  It's like we have this constant ongoing commentary by this critical voice, that won't ever let up.  Mindfulness can be a haven from this self-criticism, and an opportunity to treat ourselves, and other people, with more kindness.

In the next post, we will look at how mindfulness meditation can benefit  our brains and bodies, according to the latest research.

For more information on mindfulness, see:  "Where Ever You Go, There You Are"  by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD