What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not an idea. It is something that needs to be experienced to be understood…
A bit like the description of the taste of an apple can never really capture what it is really like to taste an apple!
But it’s quite simple really….
Try taking your attention to the point where your feet are currently touching the floor, and become aware of the sensations at that point.
Congratulations! You have just practised a few seconds of mindfulness!
There are some ways that concepts can help us to understand what this thing called mindfulness is.
A very simple definition of mindfulness is: “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.” (Bodhipaksa)
Another useful definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose,in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
But the way we talk about mindfulness on mindfulrecovery.info, with our particular emphasis on recovery, is: “To step out of the narrative of thought (where we live most of our lives) into the actual experience of what is happening in the present moment.”
Being wrapped up in our thoughts
You see we spend most of our lives wrapped up in the content of our thoughts.
For example, we have thoughts about the past. Perhaps we have regrets – things we would have liked to change. Or a longing to return to a special time and place in our younger days.
Or maybe we are thinking about the future. Something we’d like to happen. A hope or fantasy. Or maybe a scenario we fear and causes us psychological pain…
Paying attention on purpose
To practice mindfulness we consciously direct our attention. We pay attention “on purpose”. Just like when we took our attention to our feet a few moments ago.
We deliberately notice the sensations and our responses to those sensations. And we then notice the mind wandering, and when it does wander, we purposefully bring our attention back to the sensations.
Paying attention “in the present moment”
Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer.
Though mostly these thoughts are about the past or the future, the past no longer exists and the future is just a fantasy. The one moment we actually can experience — the present moment — is the one we seem most to avoid.
With mindfulness we root ourselves in the present, in what is happening now, rather than in the narrative of thought. But the ability to do this is something we need to develop. And this is where we need to begin Mindfulness Practice.